For Gordon and Johnson, 'coopetition' is a winning strategy

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Jimmie Johnson has learned so much about drafting at Daytona. A couple of years ago, he said he didn't know what he was doing. He really knows what he's doing now.
Sun., Feb. 20, 1 p.m. ET

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  • There's nothing like going to victory circle at Daytona Beach. It's something you'll never forget. It's a special moment. Johnson ended 2004 by getting married. What a way for the newlyweds to start the new season! It looks like the Hendrick cars have got a lot of steam, and they answered the question about whether they have closed the gap on Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s dominance at the restrictor plate tracks. Jeff Gordon took a look to the inside of Greg Biffle in Turn 1 late in the race. Greg Biffle had to let him go. Gordon pulled off that move on Rusty Wallace to win the Daytona 500. On the last lap of Saturday night's race, Ryan Newman had to block Gordon which gave Johnson a little extra room coming to the flag. I've got a new word for what Johnson and Gordon did: Coopetition. That's what happens when teammates work together. When the 24 car with the flames on it got up front, he and Johnson were hard to beat. It was a darn good race. It's down to the same old story. It takes the total package: driver, car, crew. You can't do it by yourself. Now, we know who the contenders are. We had a little preview tonight. The big show is next Sunday afternoon, the Daytona 500 (Feb. 20, 1 p.m. ET on FOX).

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    I was really interested to see how Dale Earnhardt Jr. would run. He was 41st in Daytona 500 pole practice on Saturday afternoon, and that 8 car didn't look fast at all to me. It wasn't performing for him. He's got a whole new crew this year, and these aren't the cars he's accustomed to driving. They are the No. 15 cars so he's got to work through a lot of things. During the 10-minute break after the first 20 laps, his team fixed his engine problem, and he was back in the race. The longer he ran, the better he got. Two years ago, Earnhardt Jr.'s battery went bad in the Daytona 500. He was a lap down, and, of course, the race was shortened by rain. He never had a chance to make it up, but he had the fastest car. He got lucky in the Shootout this time around. But all I know is a bad DEI car at Daytona has always been a little bit better than every other car.

    Oh, by the way...

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  • Blending in: You can't hold off a pack of cars running 47.50 seconds when you're running 49 flat, but Ryan Newman found a place to blend in after Jimmie Johnson passed him. He blended in and hung on to a second-place finish on two tires.
  • Sideways, not the movie: Greg Biffle had a really fast car that led the most laps, and it's unfortunate that he couldn't hold on for the win. Biffle and his teammate, Kurt Busch, got a run on Gordon off of Turn 4 late in the race. But Busch got Biffle sideways with a badly-timed bump-draft. Busch could have been trouble for Johnson, but he couldn't clear the 12 car on the outside.
  • Side-draft, the sequel: When a driver moves next to another car, it's called side-drafting. Earnhardt Jr. got a pull off of Ricky Rudd's car on the inside, and he moved over to get a pull off the other car on the outside to make his way to the front. Dale Earnhardt was the best I ever saw at sidedrafting. I never heard of it until he explained it to me one day at 190 mph.
  • On Target: As a young driver, Casey Mears seems to get in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he had a pretty fast car. When the 41 got in trouble during practice on Friday night, it made other drivers a little nervous when they got around him on Saturday night.
  • Tagged: Kurt Busch

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