A big first for Danica Patrick, but an even bigger second for Jimmie Johnson. Patrick made history up front at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, only to see Johnson make a late push ahead of her to capture his second Daytona 500 victory. Johnson, a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion first won “The Great American Race” in 2006. He started in the ninth position for both of his Daytona 500 race wins.
“There is no other way to start the season than to win the Daytona 500. I’m a very lucky man to have won it twice,” said Johnson. “I’m very honored to be on that trophy with all the greats that have ever been in our sport.”
The 55th running of the Daytona 500 was Johnson’s 400th career start and became the sixth driver to celebrate in Victory Lane following their 400th start (Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dave Marcis and Dale Earnhardt).
The Daytona 500 victory comes a year after Johnson completed only one lap in the race because of a wreck that also collected Patrick and three months after Johnson lost his bid for a sixth Sprint Cup title at Homestead-Miami Speedway to go two years without a championship after winning five straight.
NASCAR’s most popular driver and Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished second after restarting eighth following the race’s fifth caution. Earnhardt, in his No. 88 National Guard car, charged through the field on the white-flag lap and helped catapult his teammate to victory.
“We got 1 2 (finish) out of our shop,” said Earnhardt. “(I am) [r]eally happy with Hendrick (Motorsports) and all our effort.”
Earnhardt offered the following regarding the start of the season at Daytona: “I noticed something last night coming out of the track for dinner, just seemed to be a different vibe inside the infield. People seemed more excited about what was getting ready to happen today. Even today, there seemed to be a whole lot more people here. Seemed to be a lot more excitement about the race.
“That really was the biggest motivator for me today. I think we're headed in the right direction. We may not be consistently each week. But I thought today for some reason it just felt like we're on the right track as a sport.”
Mark Martin, competing in his 29th Daytona 500 and 55th race at Daytona, piloted the No. 55 car to a third-place finish. Martin moved up from the 10th spot in the final eight laps.
“I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity,” said Martin. “There are a number of drivers that didn't get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot. So I feel extremely lucky for that opportunity.
“I've told you guys over and over again. I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished. I'm pretty damn proud of the things I have (accomplished). That's how I feel about it.”
Pole-sitter Patrick finished eighth in just her 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, making her the highest finishing rookie in the race. On Lap 90, Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 under green flag conditions. She led five laps total and ran among the top 10 most of the race.
“You know, honestly when I say that I wanted to lead at some point, it was just because I was disappointed I didn't do it off the bat like I thought I should have,” said Patrick. “I'm honored. But, again, these are things that just happen along the way. I'm on the quest to be the best driver, run up front, get to Victory Lane. These things happen and I'm proud, but they're not the ultimate goal.”
Tickets for NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 15-17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale to the general public on May 1. Renew your championship tickets today! Be a part of the most exciting race weekend in America November 15-17. Save as much as $40 per ticket and keep the same seat as last year. Be first in line to upgrade, exchange, or add seats before the general public.
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Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, March 3 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio)—Race 2 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 17.