25 February 2013
Second Daytona 500 perfect start for Johnson
Patrick easily passed Waltrip for the lead at the restart on lap 89, becoming the first female driver in history to lead a lap of the Daytona 500 in the process - quite a moment, even if first Hamlin and then his Joe Gibbs Gracing team mate Kenseth took the lead back from Patrick two laps later. At the halfway mark on lap 100, the trio continued to lead ahead of Bowyer, Johnson and Waltrip.
The race continued uninterrupted to the next round of green flag pit stops starting on lap 126, after which Kenseth and Hamlin resumed in the lead ahead of Bowyer. Kyle Busch had recovered from his earlier mishaps to resume in fourth ahead of Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. making it an all-Toyota top six, while a couple of close calls on pit road had seen Danica Patrick exit in ninth place behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle.
2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne brought out a new caution on lap 138 when he got into the back of Brad Keselowski's car in turn 1: the reigning champion was able to save his car and survive the encounter, but Bayne spun as a result and took out Carl Edwards in the process. Josh Wise, David Ragan, Austin Dillon, David Gilliland and Terry Labonte were also affected.
Racing resumed on lap 146, but there was bad news for race leader Matt Kenseth as his engine timed its blow-up to perfection and ended his hopes of back-to-back Daytona 500 victories. In what appeared to be a synchronised JGR team move, Kyle Busch's own engine also seized on him just minutes later. That left the last member of the team - Denny Hamlin - in the lead, but understandably nervous of the #11's durability and wary of pushing his own car too hard to the point of destruction during the remainder of the race.
Neither JGR retirement had triggered a caution, so the final round of pit stops took place under green starting on lap 173. The cycle was not quite complete when first Martin Truex Jr. became the latest Toyota to fail, and then Jeff Burton had a cut tyre that stuffed the Richard Childress Racing #31 into a hard impact with the wall on the frontstretch on lap 177. That brought out a caution at the moment that former F1 driver Scott Speed temporarily held the lead of the Daytona 500 pending his own visit to pit road.
Once Speed did make his final stop, it turned out that the driver most assisted by the timing of the caution was the late-pitting Brad Keselowski, who took the lead for the restart on lap 181 ahead of Johnson, Ambrose, Biffle and Hamlin; Patrick, Bowyer, Gordon, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin made up the rest of the top ten with less than 20 laps to run.
Even with Biffle's help, Keselowski - still nursing damage to his car from the early accident on lap 33 - wasn't able to hold off Johnson, who had just pushed into the lead on lap 191 when the two of them ran over debris in turn 2, triggering a new caution that set up a final six lap shootout
"Things just worked out well for me coming to the caution," admitted Johnson. "The #2 [Keselowski] got a big push and was way out and kind of falling back to the #16 [Biffle]. My lane was bunched up tight and helped me surge by the #2 at the start/finish when the caution came out. That was really the move that set things up for us."
The green came out again on lap 195 with Johnson and Biffle at the front, and Patrick initially backed by with Earnhardt to push past Keselowski and Martin. But in truth, once in front Jimmie Johnson always had the lead firmly under his control, as he was quick to admit. "Honestly once I had control of the race, I knew I was sitting on a lot of speed with this car. It was so fast.
"At the end it got exciting," he continued. "I was waiting for the run and it came further back than I expected. The #88 [Earnhardt] got a big shove and was coming up the inside. I moved down to defend that and we were able to get a one-two for Hendrick Motorsports."
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