Jimmie Johnson calmly worked his way to a second Daytona 500 win, his first since 2006, after early race leader Matt Kenseth suffered an engine failure and other leading contenders such as Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne all crashed out over the course of the 200-lap, 500-mile race at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday afternoon.
“There is no other way to start the season than to win the Daytona 500," said a delighted Johnson in victory lane after the race. "I'm a very lucky man to have won it twice." It's the first time since his 2006 win that he's even finished the event in the top 25.
"I'm very honoured to be on that trophy with all the greats that have ever been in our sport," he added. "Amazing day for myself, for this team, as the year goes we are excited!"
At the start of the race at 1.30pm local time, polesitter Danica Patrick had been unable to hold on to the race lead as the green came out and instead had to watch as Jeff Gordon took to the front for the whole of the first stint, which lasted through to the first debris caution on lap 26.
Two laps after the restart on lap 31, Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports team mate Kasey Kahne was spun out of fourth place through contact with Kyle Busch. That sparked a multi-car accident which also put Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick in the garage for an extended period along with Kahne, Casey Mears and both Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing drivers, Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Brad Keselowski's #2 Penske car also sustained damage in the incident, as did Kurt Busch's #78 Furniture Row Racing car.
"We were just running the line. The front three cars, for whatever reason, slowed down pretty quickly, so I was just on the brakes and trying not to hit Jeff," explained Kahne. "I got hit from behind - Kyle was probably getting pushed and it all happened so quick."
Jimmie Johnson led at the restart but was soon moved aside by Matt Kenseth going to the front. At the end of the first quarter, Kenseth and Johnson were being pursued by Patrick, Gordon and Busch with Penske Racing new boy Joey Logano in sixth place.
A problem with the jack during a green flag pit stop on lap 72 dropped Kyle Busch out of the top 30, while Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola received a pit road speeding penalty with similar results. After the pit stop cycle concluded, Denny Hamlin was in the lead with Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. after the duo had leap-frogged Kenseth, Johnson and Gordon in pit road. Greg Biffle had meanwhile deposed Logano for sixth, and Patrick was now down in eighth place.
The single-file racing was interrupted by a debris caution on lap 85 which allowed the drivers quick return to pit road. A variety of strategies for further fuel and adjustments played out: Michael Waltrip stayed out on track and was followed by Patrick, Truex, Clint Bowyer, Hamlin and Biffle, with Johnson the highest position for a car on new right side tyres.