Throughout testing, Jimmie Johnson avoided doing any drafting practice. He continued to avoid drafting through the practices leading up to the 55th Annual Daytona 500. Some people began to question whether Johnson would be prepared for the Daytona 500.
Those questions were certainly answered on Sunday afternoon when Johnson would take the lead with nine laps to go, edging ahead of Brad Keselowski right before the caution came out for debris. He could hold the field off on the restart to win his second Daytona 500 in his 400th career start. It marks the 61st victory of Johnson’s Sprint Cup Series career, and his second top 10 at Daytona.
The past couple of years, Johnson has had no luck in the 500, including a wreck on the second lap of last year’s Daytona 500.
“Plate racing has been awfully tough,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of luck involved. This Lowe’s Chevrolet was really good. Chad Knaus and all of Hendrick Motorsports had me a fast car. I had a lot of confidence leading the train, but didn’t know how fast it really was.”
It marks the first official Daytona 500 victory for crew chief Chad Knaus. When Johnson won in 2006, Knaus had been placed on NASCAR suspension due to the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet failing pre-race technical inspection. Darian Grubb, current crew chief for Denny Hamlin, was on the box.
“Its an amazing thing,” Knaus said. “From my standpoint, to be able to compete for this win is exhilarating. It was awesome watching Jimmie up there.”
It marks the seventh Daytona 500 victory for car owner Rick Hendrick.
In looking back at their method for pre-season testing and practice, Johnson says it was all about saving the car.
“We knew what we wanted to do,” Knaus said. “We wanted to do single-car runs and look for speed, and Jimmie did a great job sticking to that test plan. It can be hard as a driver to follow that plan.”
“We wanted to get this car to the 500 and very happy to have it in the 500,” Johnson said. “Just want to give a big shoutout to all the fans and send my thoughts and prayers to everyone injured yesterday in the grandstands.”
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second after ducking out of line with help from Mark Martin on the last lap. He was fourth when they took the white flag.
“Me and Mark were just kind of sitting there and I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I was going to back up to him off of two and see what we could do. We just ran out of steam. We made a good move, just real hard to pass the leader. Jimmie did a really good job up front. We’re going to be strong this year.”
This marks the third time in the last four Daytona 500s that Earnhardt Jr. has finished second. It also marks his 15th top 10 in 27 starts at Daytona.
Mark Martin grabbed third for his 20th top 10 in 55 starts at Daytona.
“Yeah, it’s the Daytona 500 and I’m just so greatful to everybody that supports this effort to give me a chance,” Martin said. “Rodney Childers and I gave it a shot with 2 laps to go and if things shuffled different, we may had have enough there. It’s just a great day. Thought I could get Jr., but Brad wasn’t close to me. It’s just an incredible day. I can’t believe these guys let me drive their cars.”
Defending Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski finished fourth, followed by Ryan Newman.
“I needed to get a push from the 11 (Hamlin); that’s why that lane got stalled on the restart,” Keselowski said. “I caught a break about 30 laps to go with the caution and where we pitted. We were then up there fighting with Jimmie on the outside and he was about an inch ahead of us so he got the top on the restart. I don’t want to be disappointed about finishing fourth. It just wasn’t in the cards today.”
Hamlin had this tweet to say in response to Keselowski’s comments.
. @keselowski sorry I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) February 24, 2013
Joey Logano responsed to Hamlin's tweet.
Hamlin responded back to Logano, noting that nobody who went three-wide did anything.
Greg Biffle finished sixth, followed by Regan Smith and Danica Patrick. Patrick, who was the pole sitter, became the first female to finish in the top 10 in the Daytona 500. She also became the first female to lead laps in the 500, leading five.
"You know, it was a solid day, steady day," Patrick said. "Got off to a nice start. Wish I would have led at the very beginning. I thought I was going to. So it was nice to lead later on in the race, just to have done that, to lead laps. But it was steady. I mean, I spent most of the day half throttle running behind people. So, you know, when you get in that line, that nice outside line where it's just single file, I didn't feel like it was a wise idea to drop low and try to figure out how to pass. You were going to probably find yourself much further back.
"I suppose that's the only downside to running in that front group all day is that I never got any practice passing, I never tried really anything. The only thing we really did was on those starts, the inside line had a lot of momentum for the first couple of laps. That was the most action that happened until the very end there.
"Once that inside line at the end of the race had dedicated followers, it was strong. But once Jimmie got in the outside line, I think it showed that he was fast. So congrats to Jimmie. It was nice to get a Chevy to win the race."
Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley rounded out the top 10.
Matt Kenseth led a race-high 86 laps. While leading the race, Kenseth he had to bring his car to the garage after blowing an engine on lap 149.
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch also went to the garage with engine problems two laps later.
“Just broke an engine for some reason. Just unfortunate that this whole team has got to go through this stuff. We got bottled up back in traffic a little bit there. I hate it that I wrecked the 5 and the rest of those guys that were racing around us. But, unfortunate for us we broke pieces.” Busch said.
There were a total of six cautions, with three of them for debris while the other three were for wrecks.
The first wreck happened on lap 33 when Kasey Kahne was spun around after contact from Kyle Busch. Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick were among the drivers collected, going to the garage for repairs. Keselowski collected damage, however was able to continue after repairs on pit road to his front end.
“Oh, it’s crazy. I can’t believe it. I mean, I wanted to race. I didn’t want to run single-file by the wall. That’s what we were doing and you still got caught in something.” Kahne said.
"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't disappointed," Stewart said. "I thought we had a really good car."
Carl Edwards, who had already wrecked four cars during the course of Daytona Speedweeks, was collected in the second accident. The accident started when Trevor Bayne got Keselowski sideways.
“It’s so frustrating. This has not been fun. My guys, they’re not quitting and are working hard. They’ve already told me they’re ready to go to Phoenix and dominate. We’re not getting held down this year. It doesn’t matter how many cars we wrecked here. We’re fighting to the very end.” Edwards said.
Jeff Burton also suffered a wreck, pounding the outside wall after a tire went down.
Results of the 2013 Daytona 500:
1. Jimmie Johnson 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3. Mark Martin 4. Brad Keselowski 5. Ryan Newman 6. Greg Biffle 7. Regan Smith 8. Danica Patrick 9. Michael McDowell 10. JJ Yeley, Chevrolet 11. Clint Bowyer 12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 13. Aric Almirola 14. Denny Hamlin 15. Bobby Labonte 16. David Reutimann 17. Dave Blaney 18. Marcos Ambrose 19. Joey Logano 20. Jeff Gordon 21. Paul Menard 22. Michael Waltrip 23. Scott Speed 24. Martin Truex Jr, 25. Travis Kvapil 26. Terry Labonte 27. Trevor Bayne 28. Kurt Busch 29. Casey Mears 30. Jeff Burton 31. Austin Dillon 32. Jamie McMurray 33. Carl Edwards 34. Kyle Busch 35. David Ragan 36. Kasey Kahne 37. Matt Kenseth 38. David Gilliland 39. Juan Pablo Montoya 40. Josh Wise 41. Tony Stewart 42. Kevin Harvick 43. Joe Nemechek