Marcos Ambrose Collects Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards got turned by Marcos Ambrose on the final lap, crashed and finished 29th. It cost him a spot in the standings after hanging onto second in the standings for nine straight weeks (photo courtesy: Todd Warshaw, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Jimmie Johnson made history on Saturday night capturing the 55th annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola and sweeping the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson is the first driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in the same season. Other drivers to have accomplished the sweep were Fireball Roberts (1962), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969).

“To do anything Bobby has done is pretty special,” Johnson said in Gatorade Victory Lane.

Johnson put on a dominating performance leading 94 of the 160 laps. He also mastered the late-race restarts and pulled away in the green-white-checkered finish to win his first Coke Zero 400 by a margin of .107 seconds.

“It’s tough to (dominate) at a plate track, especially with how tight the rules are,” Johnson said. “I think I showed strength early and a lot of guys were willing to work with me and kind of help me through situations, which was great. I don’t know if I really made a bad move tonight, so I’m pretty proud of that.”

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart, finished second while Kevin Harvick was third.

Johnson’s points lead grew to 49 points ahead of Clint Bowyer with just eight races remaining before the post-season Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup begins. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.

With 48 the most points that can be earned in a race, Johnson is a full race ahead of the rest of the field with eight races left until the Chase begins.

“What we’ve done over the course of the year, leading the points with the big margin, probably sends the biggest margin that we’re buttoned up and ready to win a sixth championship,’’ Johnson said.

While Johnson cruised, his competitors didn’t have as much good fortune. Accidents ruined the night for several drivers including Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

Those that remained didn’t have anything for Johnson. Few can match what Johnson has done lately. He led a race-high 94 of 161 laps Saturday; marking the third time in the last five races he’s led the most laps. He’s won two of those races.

Johnson’s teammate, Kasey Kahne, saw his hopes for his first Cup points win at Daytona end on Lap 156 after contact with Marcos Ambrose on the backstretch that sent Kahne’s car into the inside wall. The incident happened as Ambrose and Kahne raced for second place behind Johnson.

“Jimmie got a little loose or he just didn’t see my move coming,’’ Ambrose said. “He came down to check the spot and I was already there and he just bounced us straight into (Kahne). That’s plate racing. We’re all trying to win.’’

The contact with Kahne’s car cut the left rear tire on Ambrose’s car, forcing him to pit and lose several positions. The driver of the No. Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion finished 26th.

Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is New Hampshire on Sunday, July 14 (1 p.m. EDT, TNT, Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 18 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.

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