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Johnson Wins Wild, Reckless Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Maybe Jimmie Johnson didn't need to cheat to win his first Daytona 500. Johnson won a two-lap shootout Sunday to claim the victory, capping a roller-coaster week that saw NASCAR kick his crew chief out of competition for cheating.

Johnson had a strong car when he arrived at Daytona International Speedway 10 days ago, and posted the fifth-fastest time in time trials. But when NASCAR gave his Chevrolet a careful once-over, inspectors discovered that Chad Knaus had made an illegal modification.

Knaus was sent home, seemingly spoiling Johnson's shot to win The Great American Race.

Not on this Sunday.

``I knew deep down inside my heart that this team could still win this race,'' Johnson said in Victory Lane. ``There's no doubt that not having Chad here was a huge handicap, but everybody stepped up. I am just so proud of this team.''

Johnson stayed calm and avoided trouble in a wild race that saw Tony Stewart eliminate three contenders: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and himself. Then Johnson worked his way to the front, staying in line and waiting for his chance to pounce.

It came with 14 laps to go when he squeezed past teammate Brian Vickers to grab the lead just as a caution came out. Johnson was at the front of the field on the restart, the lead driver in a single-file pack of cars sprinting toward the end.

From his rearview window he could see Dale Earnhardt Jr. slicing his way through the field, making a last, desperate push to mark the five-year anniversary of his Dad's death with a win at the track where he died.

But Jamie McMurray wrecked with seven laps to go to bring out one final caution. It set up an overtime finish, but no one was able to challenge him. Earnhardt was the first driver to pull out of line and make a run at Johnson, but got no drafting help and had zero chance of catching him.

Then Ryan Newman took his shot, pulling out from behind Johnson. But just like Junior, he didn't get any assistance and could only squeeze back into place.

There were no more challenges to Johnson, who won in his fifth Daytona try when a final accident brought out the caution and allowed him to cross the finish line under a yellow flag.

``It's been a tough week for us,'' Johnson understated. ``I wish Chad Knaus was here - I'm sure he's kicking his TV in right now.''

Casey Mears, who was part of the three-man team that won the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race earlier this month, was second and Newman, who was trying to give Roger Penske his first Daytona win in 33 tries, finished third.

But after, Newman questioned whether Johnson would get through post-race inspection.

``This could be the first time for NASCAR to take away a win,'' Newman said. ``We still have to see if he gets through inspection.''

The cheater stigma is one Johnson will have to live with - even after the biggest win of his career.

Johnson stayed under the radar - and away from Stewart - to pull out the victory.

Earlier this week, Stewart forced NASCAR to crack down on bump drafting and aggressive driving when he warned that someone could be killed in the 500.

Then he became the first Cup driver to be penalized under the new watchdog policy.

He began his day by hitting Gordon - a heavy favorite to win a second straight 500 - early in the race to eliminate him from contention. Then Stewart took out a second potential winner when he made a hard left turn into Matt Kenseth.

It wasn't clear if Stewart's contact was intentional, but it severely damaged Kenseth's car and NASCAR quickly penalized Stewart by ordering him to the back of the field. The punishment dropped him from fifth to 34th.

Clearly angry, he pushed his in-car camera away so television viewers couldn't see him raging.

Just seconds later, Kenseth exacted his revenge as the two cars raced each other off pit road. Kenseth passed Stewart, ran him low to the apron and appeared to hit him. NASCAR then called Kenseth into pit road for his own penalty, but the driver was irate and slow to comply.

``You've got to come in, Matt, they are going to pull our scorecard!'' crew chief Robbie Reiser radioed.

``Not until they tell me what I did. I put my hand up, asked him, `Why did you do that?' That's all I did,'' Kenseth replied. ``What did I do?''

``You were screwing around with (Stewart), you have to come in,'' Reiser said.

It didn't really matter at that point. Kenseth, who had led four times for 28 laps and a car capable of racing for the victory, was two laps down and had too much damage to his Ford to rally for the win.

``It's just really disappointing - Tony went out and said all that stuff early in the week,'' Kenseth said after the race. ``If he's worried about peoples lives and he's going to wreck somebody at 190 mph, that's tough.''
 

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It was a wild race....that's for sure. Can't wait for race # 2 of the season :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
KKCondrey said:
It was a wild race....that's for sure. Can't wait for race # 2 of the season :)
I am ready for the next race too!:D I can't believe all the penalties they were handing out. :toothy:
 
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