Published February 27, 2012
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson followed up his worst season in NASCAR with his worst finish in the Daytona 500.
Johnson wrecked on the second lap of The Great American Race on Monday, ending his night long before his car reached full speed.
Johnson was 42nd — his worst finish in 53 starts spanning four series at the famed track. Since winning the Daytona 500 in 2006, Johnson has been 39th, 27th, 31st, 35th and 27th.
This one was maybe more disappointing than the others, especially since he was coming off a career-low sixth in points in 2011.
"I'm just really, really bummed to start the season this way," Johnson said. "For all the hard work that has gone into getting ... ready for tonight; we didn't get to complete two-and-a-half miles of green-flag racing. So, I'm pretty bummed."
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon joined Johnson in the garage near the halfway point of the 200-lap race after Gordon's car blew an engine.
Johnson also had little control over his exit.
Elliott Sadler nudged Johnson from behind, turning his No. 48 Chevrolet into the wall and collecting several other cars. David Ragan slammed hard into Johnson's spinning car. Former IndyCar star Danica Patrick, former series champion Kurt Busch and defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne also were caught up in the mess, which happened super early in a race that drivers, crews and fans waited more than 30 hours to get underway because of rain.
"It is disappointing," said Ragan, who won the July race at Daytona and finished last in the 43-car field Monday. "It is ridiculous to sit around this long for the Daytona 500 and on the very first lap for someone to be driving as reckless as whoever caused that. It is just a shame for it to be that early in the biggest race, the first race of the year. We just got caught up in it. ... I can't wait to see who was the bonehead that did that."
Johnson's crew packed up his wrecked car, done for the night.
And Johnson was still trying to figure out what happened.
"We were all just getting up to speed, and I had some help from behind that got me out of control," Johnson said. "From there on, I was just spinning."
Patrick sat in her car as crew members worked feverishly to get her back on the track. Bayne couldn't even sit in his car. He got out and helped his crew repair damage to the front end.
"You spend a couple days waiting in the rain and something happens on lap one, so what do you do?" said Bayne, who was able to get back out on the track. "Man, this is tough. The guys worked so hard for this race. We were looking forward to it."
Johnson won five consecutive Sprint Cup championships before last season. He vowed to get back on track in 2012, but his team had a setback on the opening day of Speedweeks.
Johnson's car failed initial inspection Feb. 17, and NASCAR officials have indicated that crew chief Chad Knaus will be penalized.
The car had illegally modified sheet metal between the roof and the side windows — the area known as the C-posts. NASCAR took the C-posts from the Hendrick Motorsports team and shipped them to its research and development facility for more testing.
Knaus has been suspended twice before by NASCAR, including before the 2006 Daytona 500.
He also was suspended in 2007 for violations to the body of Johnson's car discovered during opening-day inspection at Sonoma. He was allowed to finish the weekend but was suspended for six weeks after the event.
Knaus has not been seriously punished by NASCAR since 2007, although he was scrutinized last season when in-car audio captured him telling Johnson to "crack" the back of the car against the wall if he won at Talladega — an apparent effort to skirt a potential post-race inspection.
NASCAR said the audio was not enough evidence to warrant any punishment.
So not only did the team fail to turn two laps, now it must deal with ramifications from the failed inspection. NASCAR said those would come after the Daytona 500.