Since winning his first Daytona 500 back in 2006, the Great American Race hasn’t been kind to Jimmie Johnson.
In the years following his victory, Johnson posted finishes of 39th,27th,31st,35th,27th, and 42nd. Obviously, those aren’t the results you expect out of a former Daytona 500 winner, much less a five-time Sprint Cup champion.
When Johnson won the race in 2006, he started in the ninth position on a cloudy day with rain in the forecast.
On Sunday afternoon under cloudy skies, and with a band of showers south of Daytona International Speedway, Johnson took the green flag in the ninth position.
Up on the front row, it was Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon leading the field to the first green flag of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season, with Gordon getting the early jump and leading the opening 31 laps of the race until he was passed on pit road by Johnson.
Quickly after the restart, many of the pre-race favorites including Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel winner Kevin Harvick, three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and defending series champion Brad Keselowski were among the nine cars involved involved in the turn one crash.
Following the restart, the race was green up until lap 86 when NASCAR threw the caution flag for debris on the track. That brought the field in for a round of pit stops, with Danica Patrick winning the race on pit road.
That set up the most historic moment of the day on lap 90 when Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap in the Sprint Cup Series under green flag conditions after she made the pass on Michael Waltrip for the top spot.
Patrick regained the lead on lap 127 and held it for until lap 129. Although that was the final time she led the race, she kept her No.10 Chevrolet up with the front-runners for the full 200 lap event.
After a nine-car crash in turn one, the race entered another stretch of green flag racing which consisted of the majority of the field parading in a single-file line up next to the wall around the 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway.
It wasn’t until the right-front tire blew on the No.31 Chevrolet of Jeff Burton which brought out the caution on lap 178 that really shook things up.
On the restart, it was Keselwoski and Johnson on the front row, the two drivers who ended 2012 in a heated championship battle.
As the laps wound down, it appeared as though the two would be the ones battling it out for the win as the ran side-by-side with one another with the field two and three-wide behind them.
The race was shaping up for a classic Daytona finish until NASCAR threw the caution for a piece of carbon fiber from a car on the track with seven laps to go.
For the final time, the green flag came back out on lap 195 with Johnson in the lead and Keselowski on the inside in second.
Quickly, the outside line of Johnson, Greg Biffle and Patrick pulled out to an advantage while Keselowksi couldn’t find much drafting help on the bottom lane.
When the white flag flew, it was Johnson in the lead, but coming with a head of steam were Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin down the backstretch, trying to score a Daytona 500 win.
It was to no avail as Johnson came under the checkered flag to win the 55th annual Daytona 500.
“It is just awesome,” said Johnson after picking up his second Daytona 500 win and 61st victory of his Sprint Cup career. . “There’s no other way to describe it.”
Johnson led the race for only 16 laps, but he led the only one that counts; The last one.
” feel like the speed our car had in it allowed me to really have control of the race there late. I felt like I was sitting on something all day and was just ready to have some fun when it counted, and it did.”
Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the 400th time that Johnson had taken the green flag in a Sprint Cup Series race, each one of them driving the No.48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
By winning in his 400th start, Johnson joins Lee and Richard Petty, David Peason and Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers to accomplish that.
“Just to hear those names and my name in that sentence is pretty awesome,” said Johnson.
The history side is hard for me because, one, I don’t know these stats. Happy to hear about them, though. I’m still in the sport competing, not in that mental space to reflect back all that much.
“I am so proud to be in that same category with those guys, feel I have a lot of years left. I certainly hope to make more history and do other cool things within the sport.
“It’s a huge honor. There’s no other way to put it.”
While many things in this race and the sport may confuse, there’s one thing to be certain of. Johnson keeps furthering the his legacy in the sport.
55th Daytona 500 Unofficial Results
- Jimmie Johnson
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Mark Martin
- Brad Keselowski
- Ryan Newman
- Greg Biffle
- Regan Smith
- Danica Patrick
- Michael McDowell
- JJ Yeley
- Clint Bowyer
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Aric Almirola
- Denny Hamlin
- Bobby Labonte
- David Reutimann
- Dave Blaney
- Marcos Ambrose
- Joey Logano
- Jeff Gordon
- Paul Menard
- Michael Waltrip
- Scott Speed
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Travis Kvapil
- Terry Labonte
- Trevor Bayne
- Kurt Busch
- Casey Mears
- Jeff Burton
- Austin Dillon
- Jamie McMurray
- Carl Edwards
- Kyle Busch
- David Ragan
- Kasey Kahne
- Matt Kenseth
- David Gilliland
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Josh Wise
- Tony Stewart
- Kevin Harvick
- Joe Nemechek