Jimmie Johnson dominated over a tense late-race green-flag run and won Sunday’s Daytona 500 by holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other challengers.
The win was the second for Johnson in the Great American race and the seventh for team owner Rick Hendrick.
The victory came in Johnson’s 400th career start.
Johnson took the final green with six laps to go and Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin trailing. Traffic shuffled behind him in the final-lap dash to the checkered, but Johnson stayed in front of the drafting pair of Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin to win with relative ease.
Danica Patrick, who was third at the white flag, dropped to eighth in the final 2.5 miles but still scored the first top-10 finish by a woman in NASCAR’s biggest race. She raced in the top 10 most of the day.
Jeff Burton’s trioval crash set up the race finish with a green flag with 19 laps to go. Keselowski, Johnson, Marcos Ambrose and Biffle were in front.
The field was slowed again with eight laps to go because of debris – apparently a piece of aluminum – on the backstretch. Johnson, wrestling for the lead with Keselowski, hit the debris, but the impact apparently didn’t affect his car.
An early-race accident ruined the day for three potential winners – Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne.
The wreck developed near the front of the field on lap 34 in the middle of a big pack of cars. Kyle Busch bumped Kahne as the cars moved through the trioval, and Kahne shot across the track in front of traffic. Mayhem followed. Nine cars eventually were involved, and the Kahne, Stewart and Harvick entries were heavily damaged.
Kahne said the cars in front of him slowed just before the contact with Busch.
The crash was particularly harsh for Stewart, who appeared to have a potent car. Despite multiple championships, Stewart remains winless in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.
“The hell with the season, I wanted to win the Daytona 500,” said Stewart, winner of Saturday’s Nationwide race.
A turn-two crash with 63 laps to go wrote another wicked chapter in Carl Edwards’ 2013 Daytona. Contact between Keselowski and Trevor Bayne sent Bayne sliding in a group of cars, and Edwards was among those who became ensnarled in the melee. During Speedweeks activities and testing, Edwards wrecked five cars.
Patrick ran near the front all day and made a bit of history on lap 90, becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the 55-race history of the 500.
Joe Gibbs Racing had an eventful day. Its three drivers were running near the front late in the race when two – Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch – went behind the wall around lap 150 with mechanical problems.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.