Jimmie Johnson was back on top and back in victory lane at the end of the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway, and all felt right with the universe once more after three weeks of relative jitters for the five time champion.
Not the case at Daytona International Speedway this week however, which he saw him lead for 94 of the 161 2.5-mile laps of the restrictor plate event, effectively keeping himself nice and safe all evening by being too far out in front to come to any harm in accidents sparked by others during the race. That allowed him to claim the chequered flag at the end while mayhem broke out behind him - the first time that a driver has claimed both Cup victories at Daytona in the same season since Bobby Allison in 1982.
“That is amazing," said Johnson when confronted with the historical context of his achievement. " Gosh, I remember being in Southern California watching Bobby Allison ... I always thought it was so great to watch Bobby and Davey race. To tie anything that Bobby has done is pretty special. Very happy tonight."
At the start, Matt Kenseth had narrowly led at the end of the first lap but after that it was his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch who reasserted his pole winner right of possession to the top spot for the opening 25 laps through to the first caution of the night caused by fluid laid down by an engine blow-up for Paul Menard.
"Absolutely no warning, the water was 225 and we were just kind of riding there," said Menard of his unusually early engine failure from the normally rock-solid Chevrolet. "The car was really good, handled great. Kind of biding our time for the first pit stop came off turn four and something just let go. It wasn't smoking, it broke and I could hear it. I felt the heat come up. I didn't know if I was on fire or not. I couldn't feel it right away. Just unfortunate, we needed a good run and had a really good car today."
Taking the low line, Johnson managed to take the lead from Busch at the restart and took Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with him to the front. Johnson led continuously from lap 33 through to lap 70, at which point it was Logano who brought out the second yellow of the night with an tyre blow-out.
“It was a right-front," said Logano, at a loss to suggest any cause for the problem. "I don't really know what it was. I really don't think I ran anything over and in looking it over it looks like a shoulder failure to me. I don't know why, I haven't seen any tyre issues out here."
The blow-out put Logano into the wall and did considerable damage to the #22 Penske racing car, although at least the driver was unhurt. "It was a big hit, but a bigger hit in the points, really. We'll have to fix this thing up and put a new right-front suspension on and get back out there to try and gain a couple more spots if we can. It's just a bummer - the Shell/Pennzoil team has done a great job all year gaining up some points. We'll lose a lot here, but we're not out of it by any means."
While Logano did resume late in the race, he ended up making up just a single place in the final standings for all the hard work of the Penske crew, as the only retiree he was able to overhaul in the time remaining was Martin Truex Jr., who crashed out on lap 97 after possible contact with Denny Hamlin. Kyle Busch was also caught up in the incident and sustained front end damage to the #18, and Juan Pablo Montoya was similarly collected.