DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A flawless race gave Jimmie Johnson a perfect year at Daytona International Speedway and put him on another exclusive list.
Johnson became the first driver in 31 years to sweep Daytona International Speedway, accomplishing the feat with a dominating run Saturday night for his fourth win of the season. The Daytona 500 winner is the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982, and the fifth overall, to win both races in a season at Daytona.
“I don’t think I made a bad move tonight. I’m pretty proud of that,” Johnson said. “Gosh, growing up in Southern California and watching Bobby Allison ... to do anything Bobby has done is pretty special.”
The five-time NASCAR champion was the leader on the restart for a two-lap sprint to the finish in overtime Saturday night. He held off Kevin Harvick on the restart, and then pulled out front to a sizeable lead. Tony Stewart moved into second and may have been timing his attempt to make a pass for the lead when a caution in the middle of the pack froze the field.
“We knew it was coming,” Johnson said of the late accident. “Getting down to the end of these things, we knew it was going to get exciting.”
Stewart was second, followed by Kevin Harvick in a Chevrolet sweep. Both thought Johnson’s fast car, once able to get out front, was untouchable. He led 94 of the 161 laps.
“These things are such a crapshoot ... all 43 guys have a shot at winning the race,” Stewart said. “They definitely had a fast car. I mean, they had a fast car at the 500, they had a fast car here, so it makes sense.”
Harvick thought the outcome would have been different if anyone had been able to get a push past Johnson.
“I think we could have done the same thing in clean air,” Harvick said. “I think the front car is in a lot better control.”
Clint Bowyer was fourth and team co-owner Michael Waltrip fifth in a pair of Toyotas. Then came Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Chevrolets took six of the top eight spots and seven of the top 10.
Casey Mears was ninth in a Ford, followed by Ryan Newman. But NASCAR was reviewing the finishing order long after the race ended.
The race was stopped for almost nine minutes for a six-car accident with 11 laps remaining that included yet another vicious hit for Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin’s car inexplicably turned right and spun hard into the frontstretch wall. It then turned back into traffic and Hamlin was tagged hard by AJ Allmendinger in a hit that caused his car to lift off the ground.
Both he and Allmendinger had to collect themselves after climbing from their wrecked cars, but both were evaluated and released from the infield care center. Hamlin missed four races earlier this season with a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back, and took a hard hit last Sunday at Kentucky.
He tested Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but had to be evaluated by a doctor on site before he got in the car. And his race-ending accident came after he had climbed back from a lap down from an earlier incident involving fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr.
Also involved in the late accident with Hamlin and Allmendinger were Matt Kenseth, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and Jeff Gordon.
“I saw the wreck and tried to slow down and miss it, but just not much I could do,” Kenseth said.
The race resumed with seven laps remaining and Johnson leading teammate Kasey Kahne. Johnson then made a strange move to the high line to block Marcos Ambrose and it might have cost him the race as it put Kahne out front in the bottom lane of traffic.
But as the two Hendrick drivers drag-raced around Daytona, Ambrose clipped the side of Johnson as he attempted a sudden lane change. He slammed into the side of Kahne, causing Kahne to spin and hit an inside retaining wall for another caution with five laps remaining.
“Jimmie got a little loose or he just didn’t see my move coming, and I split him coming off of (turn) two,” Ambrose said. “He came down to check the spot and I was already there and he just bounced us straight into (Kahne).”
Kahne angrily tossed his head-and-neck restraint into his car after climbing from the wreckage.
The race resumed in overtime with Johnson leading Harvick, Bowyer, Stewart and McMurray. He wasn’t challenged as neither Stewart nor Harvick could make a move before the race-ending caution.
“Jimmie just was good,” Stewart said. “Jimmie was just really, really good. We were just a little bit off of him.”
Added Harvick: “I really thought we were in the right spot. ... Our line just never developed. I’m a little disappointed because I really thought we were in the right spot.”