Johnson wins 2nd Daytona 500; Danica 8th

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A big first for Danica Patrick, but an even bigger second for Jimmie Johnson.

Patrick
made history up front at the Daytona 500 Sunday, only to see Johnson
make a late push ahead of her and reclaim his spot at the top of his
sport.

It was the second Daytona 500 victory for Johnson, a five-time NASCAR champion who first won “The Great American Race” in 2006.

“There
is no other way to start the season than to win the Daytona 500. I’m a
very lucky man to have won it twice,” said Johnson, who won in his 400th
career start. “I’m very honored to be on that trophy with all the
greats that have ever been in our sport.”

It comes a year after
Johnson completed only one lap in the race because of a wreck that also
collected Patrick, and just three months after Johnson lost his bid for a
sixth Sprint Cup title to go two years without a championship after
winning five straight.

Patrick, the first woman to win the pole,
also became the first woman to lead the race. She was running third on
the last lap, but faded to eighth at the finish and admitted she’ll
replay it over in her mind.

“I would imagine pretty much anyone
would be kicking themselves about what they coulda, shoulda have done to
give themselves an opportunity to win,” she said. “I think that’s what I
was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish
that.”

There were several multi-car crashes during the race, none
approaching the magnitude of the wreck that injured more than two dozen
fans a day earlier in the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the
same track. Daytona International Speedway workers were up until 2 a.m
repairing the fence that was damaged in the accident, and track
officials offered Sunday morning to move any fans who felt uneasy
sitting too close to the track.

Several drivers said the accident
and concern for the fans stuck with them overnight and into Sunday
morning, and Johnson was quick to send his thoughts in Victory Lane.

“Me
personally, I was just really waiting to get the news on how everybody
was, how all the fans were overnight, just hoping that things were going
to improve … was not really ready to proceed until you had some
confirmation that things were looking more positive,” said Dale
Earnhardt Jr., who was involved in Saturday’s accident but refocused and
finished second to Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

The
race itself, the debut for NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car, was quite similar to
all the other Cup races during Speedweeks in that the cars seemed to
line up in a single-file parade along the top groove of the track. It
made the 55th running of the Daytona 500 relatively uneventful.

When the race was on the line, Johnson took off.

The
driver known as “Five-Time” raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad
Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizable lead that
nobody challenged over the final six laps.

“We have a hard time
finishing these races. Boy, to run 1-2, man, what a day,” said Rick
Hendrick, team owner for both Johnson and Earnhardt.

Mark Martin
was third in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Keselowski, who overcame
two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth in Penske Racing’s
new Ford. Ryan Newman was fifth in a Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing and
was followed by Roush-Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle, who was second on the
last lap but was shuffled back with Patrick to finish sixth.

Regan Smith was seventh for Phoenix Racing, while Patrick, Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley rounded out the top 10.

Patrick
was clearly disappointed with her finish, even though she ran inside
the top-10 the entire race. When the race was on the line, though, she
was schooled by Earnhardt, who made his move for the win.

Still,
Patrick became the first woman in history to lead laps in the 500 when
she passed Michael Waltrip on a restart on Lap 90. She stayed on the
point for two laps, then was shuffled back to third. She ended up
leading five laps, another groundbreaking moment for Patrick, who in
2005 as a rookie became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500.

Janet
Guthrie was the first woman to lead laps at NASCAR’s top Cup Series, in
1977 at Ontario, where she led five laps under caution.

“Dale
did a nice job and showed what happens when you plan it out, you drop
back and get that momentum. You are able to go to the front,” Patrick
said. “I think he taught me something. I’m sure I’ll watch the race and
there will be other scenarios I see that can teach me, too.”

Earnhardt was impressed, nonetheless.

“She’s
going to make a lot of history all year long. It’s going to be a lot of
fun to watch her progress,” said Earnhardt Jr. “Every time I’ve seen
her in a pretty hectic situation, she always really remained calm. She’s
got a great level head. She’s a racer. She knows what’s coming. She’s
smart about her decisions. She knew what to do today as far as track
position and not taking risks. I enjoy racing with her.”

The
field was weakened by an early nine-car accident that knocked out race
favorite Kevin Harvick and sentimental favorite Tony Stewart.

Harvick
had won two support races coming into the 500 to cement himself as the
driver to beat, but the accident sent him home with a 42nd place finish.

Stewart, meanwhile, dropped to 0-for-15 in one of the few races the three-time NASCAR champion has never won.

“If I didn’t tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I’d be lying to you,” Stewart said.

That
accident also took former winner Jamie McMurray, his Chip Ganassi
Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kasey Kahne out of contention.

The
next accident — involving nine cars — came 105 laps later and brought
a thankful end to Speedweeks for Carl Edwards. He was caught in his
fifth accident since testing last month, and this wreck collected six
other Ford drivers.

The field suddenly had six Toyota drivers at
the front as Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing drivers took
control of the race. But JGR’s day blew up — literally — when the team
was running 1-2-3 with Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch
setting the pace.

Kenseth, who led a race-high 86 laps, went to
pit road first with a transmission issue, and Busch was right behind him
with a blown engine. Busch was already in street clothes watching as
Hamlin led the field.

“It’s a little devastating when you are running 1-2-3 like that,” Busch said.