Jimmie Johnson, who had crashed in the past six Advance Auto Parts Clash races at Daytona International Speedway, found a way to win the 2019 version of the season-opening exhibition race — by helping to trigger a wreck that eliminated nearly everyone else.
Moments before a rainstorm halted the action and ultimately made the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race official after 59 of 75 scheduled laps, Johnson — running second on Lap 56 — pulled to the inside of leader Paul Menard, who moved down the track slightly as Johnson was attempting a close side-draft.
Contact between the cars in Turn 3 sent Menard spinning and caused a massive pileup behind him, damaging 17 of the 20 cars to varying degrees. Johnson took the lead in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and was declared the winner after NASCAR red-flagged the race because of rain for the third time.
The victory was Johnson’s third in the non-points Clash.
“Knowing the rain was coming — we could see it coming — and I knew that was probably my lap to make the move,” said Johnson, who suffered through a winless 2018. “I had a great run down the back. I got below him (Menard) before he blocked it, and then he came down a little bit, I think to defend and block.
“I got that move inside him, and I was hopeful the 1 (Kurt Busch) would follow me through, but I hate to see all these cars tore up. I think it was a racing thing more than anything. I feel sorry for Paul. I feel sorry for all the teams that lost race cars, but I’m here to win races, and this Ally car was fast.”
Johnson’s victory came in his first competitive outing with new crew chief Kevin Meendering. Earlier on Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron had claimed the pole position for the Daytona 500 in his first qualifying attempt with Johnson’s old crew chief, Chad Knaus.
“I did mention to Chad that he was able to win me my first pole here for the 500, and he did the same for William,” Johnson said.
“I’m really happy for those guys. With this group of Ally team members I have behind me, these guys have been working so hard and we’re off to a great start this year.”
Kurt Busch, who was following Johnson on the backstretch, dodged the melee and finished second. Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney were third and fourth, with Alex Bowman completing the top five.
Menard had led 51 laps to that point in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford and had controlled the 20-car field from the head of the outside lane.
“Jimmie pulled out, and I kind of moved down a little bit, and the next thing I know I get turned in the left rear,” Menard said. “Just aggressive. Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks. I had a really fast Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. Led a lot of laps but tore up a car for no reason.
“It was a pretty tame race up until that point. We knew that last restart (on Lap 48) was basically a new race—a little dash for cash to the end. It was definitely expected. I’m surprised we actually got single-file up top again after that last restart, but I knew something like that was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.”
1. (13) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 59.
2. (19) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 59.
3. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 59.
4. (8) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 59.
5. (5) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 59.
6. (9) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 59.
7. (16) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 59.
8. (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 59.
9. (4) Ryan Newman, Ford, 59.
10. (10) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 58.
11. (11) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 58.
12. (6) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 57.
13. (1) Paul Menard, Ford, Accident, 55.
14. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 55.
15. (12) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Accident, 55.
16. (15) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 55.
17. (17) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 55.
18. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 55.
19. (14) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 55.
20. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, Accident, 55.