Jimmie Johnson’s Daytona sweep gives him a 49-point lead in the Chase for the Championship standings over second-place Clint Bowyer.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson did everything he could during the final 15 laps to keep himself in front of the pack — even diving back and forth between the bottom and high lane. As a result, he was able to hold onto the lead through four wrecks to win the Coke Zero 400 late Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
The dramatic victory allowed Johnson to become the first driver to win both the Daytona 500 and the 400 in the same year since Bobby Allison in 1982.
As a result of his clean sweep, Johnson now leads second-place Clint Bowyer by 49 points in the title race.
Johnson, who is only the fifth driver in Daytona history to register the sweep, said he didn’t have “the slightest clue” that it had been 31 years since anyone won both races in the same year.
Johnson, who led 94 laps, was in front when the green came out with 28 laps to go. And he was still ahead when Denny Hamlin went below the yellow line and suddenly turned right to trigger a six-car accident with 11 laps remaining. The wreck included potential winners Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.
After a nine-minute red flag, the race went green with seven laps to go.
Johnson decided to take the top lane for the restart, putting Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne on his rear bumper. Johnson and Kahne got a great restart and were 1-2 when they dived down to the low line.
But a lap later, Johnson saw the high line headed by Marcos Ambrose coming fast so he jumped in front of this pack. This allowed Kahne to pull beside him as they battled for the top spot.
“The 9 had a great run -- the fastest I had seen anyone come all night -- so I jumped up to block him,” Johnson said. “And then coming off (turn) two, the 9 made a strong move and all I saw was him beside me. I don’t know what happened after that.”
The two touched -- and Ambrose bounced off into Kahne. The contact sent Kahne head-on into the inside wall to bring out a yellow flag.
That set up a green-white-checkered flag finish.
“I hadn’t been around the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and 14 (Tony Stewart) very much early in the race as they went to the back so I didn’t know what they had,” Johnson said. “But it became very obvious they were sitting on bullets.”
Johnson again won the restart, but moments after getting the white flag, cars started wrecking behind the front pack. NASCAR decided not to throw the yellow.
But another wreck occurred as the leaders came off turn four with Johnson holding off Stewart for his fourth win of the season.
“I thought the 14 and 78 (Kurt Busch) would stay side by side as we raced through the fourth turn, but once the 14 cleared the 78, I got real nervous,” Johnson said. “I thought I was too far in front and I was in trouble.
“But I guess he didn’t have anyone behind him to push him as it worked out OK.”
Harvick was third, followed by Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Casey Mears and Ryan Newman.
Danica Patrick and Carl Edwards were among the cars involved in the final wreck of the evening. But Patrick was still able to finish 14th.
Ambrose said he wasn’t sure what happened when he and Johnson got together.
“Jimmie got a little loose or he just didn’t see my move coming, and I split him coming off turn two,” Ambrose said. “He came down to check the spot and I was already there and he just bounced us straight into the 5.
“If we hadn’t cut a tire down, we would have had the lead, so you can’t ask for more than that. The left rear got cut down when the 5 spun out. Jimmie pushed me down to the 5 and pushed the fender on the tire.”
Ambrose was forced to pitfor a tire change. He ended up 26th.
Both Stewart and Harvick said they were “disappointed” with how the race ended.
“I thought we were in the right spot,” Harvick said. “But those couple of cautions hurt our chances of hooking up together.”
Asked if this victory was a statement to the other teams that his sixth championship is just around the corner, Johnson replied, “The Chase is so different.
“Right now, we are just trying to get wins and earn bonus points and get ready for the Chase. Tonight’s statement doesn’t show a lot. What we do on the mile-and-a-halves is more important (since five of the 10 Chase races are run on 1.5-mile tracks).”