DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag in a thrilling finish to the 55th annual Daytona 500. The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion claimed his second Harley J. Earl trophy Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
Johnson’s first Daytona 500 victory came in 2006. He started in the ninth position for both of his Daytona 500 race wins.
“I’m a very lucky man to have won it twice and (I am) honored to be on that trophy with all of those great names,” said Johnson.
“Chad Knaus and all of Hendrick Motorsports had me (in) a fast car and I could really stay up front all day long. I had a lot of confidence in the final few laps leading the train, so I knew just how fast the car was. So big credit to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.”
The 55th annual Daytona 500 was Johnson’s 400th career start. Sunday afternoon, he became the sixth driver to celebrate in Victory Lane following their 400th start (Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dave Marcis and Dale Earnhardt).
The season-opening win by Johnson in the No. 48 Lowe’s car gives Chevrolet its 42nd Daytona 500 victory – the most by a manufacturer. Additionally, it gives Rick Hendrick his seventh Daytona 500 victory as an owner.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second after restarting eighth following the race’s fifth caution. Earnhardt, in his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, charged through the field on the white-flag lap and helped catapult his teammate to victory.
“We got 1‑2 (finish) out of our shop,” said Earnhardt. “(I am) [r]eally happy with Hendrick (Motorsports) and all our effort.”
Earnhardt offered the following regarding the start of the season at Daytona: “I noticed something last night coming out of the track for dinner, just seemed to be a different vibe inside the infield. People seemed more excited about what was getting ready to happen today. Even today, there seemed to be a whole lot more people here. Seemed to be a lot more excitement about the race.
“That really was the biggest motivator for me today. I think we're headed in the right direction. We may not be consistently each week. But I thought today for some reason it just felt like we're on the right track as a sport.”
Mark Martin, competing in his 29th Daytona 500 and 55th race at Daytona, piloted the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota to a third-place finish. Martin moved up from the 10th spot in the final eight laps.
“I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity,” said Martin. “There are a number of drivers that didn't get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot. So I feel extremely lucky for that opportunity.
“I've told you guys over and over again. I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished. I'm pretty damn proud of the things I have (accomplished). That's how I feel about it.”
Pole-sitter Danica Patrick finished eighth in just her 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, making her the highest finishing rookie in the race. On Lap 90, Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 under green flag conditions. She led five laps total and ran among the top 10 most of the race.
“You know, honestly when I say that I wanted to lead at some point, it was just because I was disappointed I didn't do it off the bat like I thought I should have,” said Patrick.
“I'm honored. But, again, these are things that just happen along the way. I'm on the quest to be the best driver, run up front, get to Victory Lane. These things happen and I'm proud, but they're not the ultimate goal.”
The race featured 28 lead changes among 14 drivers. The race also saw six cautions for a total of 24 laps, including one on the final lap shortly after Johnson took the white flag. Twenty four drivers finished on the lead lap in the 43-car field.
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