Jimmie Johnson has won his second Daytona 500, racing past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart, while Danica Patrick finished eighth.
Patrick, who started on the pole, becomes the highest finishing woman in the history of the race.
Johnson wasn’t challenged over the final six laps Sunday, adding another 500 title to go with his 2006 victory.
This time crew chief Chad Knaus can enjoy it — he was suspended by NASCAR for the first victory.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a late move to finish second, but didn’t challenge his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for the victory. Mark Martin was third.
Patrick was third on the final lap, but faded in the flurry of late action. She became the first woman in history to lead laps in the Daytona 500, though, with her three laps out front.
Patrick also made history as an IndyCar driver. She led 19 laps as a rookie in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, becoming the first woman to lead open-wheel racing’s premier event. She finished fourth.
Patrick started the 200-lap race on the pole after becoming the first woman to qualify in the top spot. Choosing the outside spot on the front row, Patrick gave up the lead to three-time winner Jeff Gordon on the very first lap, missing out on an early chance to become the first female to lead a Cup lap.
Over the first 10 laps, she settled in behind Gordon and held on to the second spot in the 43-car field.
Patrick went on the radio before the race to thank her crew for giving her such a strong car. “I’ll do the best job I can to do my end of the deal today,” she said. “All in all, thank you for everything. You guys are awesome.”
Earlier, one massive wreck eliminated the favourite and thes sentimental favourite from the race.
The crash on lap 33 knocked out several top contenders, including 2007 race winner Kevin Harvick and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, shaking up NASCAR’s season opener.
“If I didn’t tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I’d be lying to you,” Stewart said.
While taking the checkered was out of the picture, Stewart ditched the safety goggles and grabbed some tools in the garage to repair his No. 20.
Stewart eventually returned to the track — only 82 laps back. Safe to say, he was a bit of a long shot.
The nine-car wreck started when Kasey Kahne let off the gas to slow as they neared the first turn at Daytona International Speedway. Kyle Busch tried to do the same, but couldn’t avoid contact.
Busch sent Kahne spinning across the track. Juan Pablo Montoya, 2010 race winner Jamie McMurray and defending series champion Brad Keselowski also were involved. So were Kurt Busch and Casey Mears.
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe it,” Kahne said. “I mean, I wanted to race.”
The accident came a day after a horrific wreck in a second-tier NASCAR series race hurled chunks of debris, including a heavy tire, into the stands and injured nearly 30 people.
It also ended Harvick’s attempt to become the first in NASCAR history to win the exhibition Sprint Unlimited, a twin qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks.
“I don’t know who was behind me, but it was just one of those deals,” Harvick said.
Harvick stripped his firesuit down to his waist and rode off in a golf cart, a more solemn ride than his two trips to Victory Lane this week. Harvick had dominated in Speedweeks as the prelude to his final season driving a Richard Childress Chevrolet. He won last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited and one of the Duel races, each time plopping his son Keelan into the cockpit for a quick rub of good luck.
The parade of wreckers entering the garage hauled the dented or totalled remains of some of the sport’s heaviest hitters. Montoya is a former Indianapolis 500 winner. Busch won the 2004 Cup championship. None of them had a chance to pad his resume.
“You could see it coming. They were all checking up,” Montoya said. “And I thought, ‘Somebody isn’t going to check up and screw up.’ And, then, they did.”
Stewart won the crash-marred Nationwide Series on Saturday for his 19th victory at Daytona in all other levels of NASCAR except for Cup. He has more wins at one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks except for Dale Earnhardt (34). Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in his 20th try.
Stewart will at least stretch it out to 16.
Told the accident spoiled the start of his season, Stewart wasn’t buying it.
“To hell with the season,” he said. “I wanted to win the Daytona 500.
Defending champ Matt Kenseth won't be around to collect a second checkered flag. He had led more laps than anyone when, suddenly, his car began smoking on lap 149. He headed to pit road and it didn’t take long for the crew to push him behind the wall, ruining any hopes of becoming the first back-to-back winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95.
Kenseth and his new teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, were actually running 1-2-3 when Kenseth had some sort of engine or transmission problem. Just two laps later, Busch’s car also went out, smoking as well, sending the driver of the No. 18 machine storming through the garage, ripping off his racesuit.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Busch said. “We were running 1-2-3 and it felt like we were dropping like flies. Something inside the motor broke that’s not supposed to break. It’s a little devastating when you’re running 1-2-3 like that. Hopefully the No. 11 (Hamlin) can bring it home.”