Jimmie Johnson got his 2013 season off to the best possible start by winning the 55th annual Daytona 500.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who has suffered a poor run of luck in the 500 since first winning the event in 2006, held off team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win. as a result, Junior claimed his third second placed finish out of the last four Daytona 500s. Veteran Mark Martin, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and 2008 winner Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. Running second and third going into the final lap, Roush's Greg Biffle and Stewart-Haas' Danica Patrick dropped back towards the end as Martin and Earnhardt Jr. surged forward.
Patrick, who last week became the first woman to claim pole position for 'The Great American Race' ran consistently in the top ten throughout, dropped back from third to eighth as she crossed the line. Nevertheless, her top ten finish was not only her highest finish in the Sprint Cup (in only 11 starts), but it was also the highest finish for a woman in the Daytona 500. She also became the first woman to lead a Sprint Cup race after taking the lead on lap 89 after earlier dropping bacak from pole position.
Toyota looked to be having a strong race, occupying the top six positions at one stage with Joe Gibbs racing even occupying the top three spots. Matt Kenseth led the most laps on his debut for Toyota and JGR after his move from Roush and Ford after 13 years. However, the fine form for the Japanese marque was not to last as engine troubles thwarted Toyota drivers Kenseth, Kyle Bush and MWR runner Martin Truex Jr. JGR's Denny Hamlin and MWR's Clint Bowyer had battled for the lead but had to settle for 11th and 14th respectively.
The first major wreck of the day took place on lap 31, eliminating pre race favourites Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, winner of both the Sprint Unlimited and the second Budweiser Duel. 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne was also involved, spinning and collecting rookie Austin Dillon and Carl Edwards, capping off a miserable Speedweeks for the Roush driver who had failed to finish a single race in the build up to the 500. Reigning champion Brad Keselowski was also involved but managed to get back on track after some quick repairs by his Penske Racing pitcrew.
Despite leading from the first lap, second placed starter Jeff Gordon had to drop back towards the end of the race as his Hendrick Motorsports #24 Chevrolet SS began to overheat. He finished second. Hendrick's fourth driver, Kasey Khane also suffered from poor luck after being eliminated in the early wreck.
The race was mostly processional, a stark contrast to previous races, as single file racing took precedence over pack or tandem racing fans have become accustom to at Daytona. 35 out of 43 starters made it to the finish with 24 of those on the lead lap. There were 14 leaders with 29 lead changesThe event was Hendrick Motorsport's seventh Daytona 500 triumph.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup continues next weekend with a race at Phoenix, Arizona; the scene of Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer's infamous brawl towards the end of last season.
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