Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson held off a pack of traffic, including teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., to win his second Daytona 500 and one of the biggest races of his career Sunday.

Danica Patrick, who was running third on the final lap, held on to finish eighth to become the highest finishing woman in Daytona 500 history.
Earnhardt, who was running fourth entering the final lap, made a move to the inside to take second and shuffle Patrick and others out of the lead draft.

Earnhardt finished second for the third time in the past four years in the Daytona 500. He was followed by Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Regan Smith and Patrick.

Patrick, who led five laps, ran in the lead pack all day and was running third at the white flag but got "freight trained" by Earnhardt and others. She said she simply did not have enough experience to know what to do on the final lap.

“It's always a little frustrating when you are top three on that last lap. But I will learn more for next time," Patrick said. "I didn’t really feel like I had a good grasp of how to go win this race. I hadn’t wrapped my head around that.

"I was running half-throttle most of the race, running in line, but I will know better for next time."

Earnhardt, meanwhile, made a big move at the end with a push from Martin.

“I was hoping (Martin) was thinking what I was thinking," Earnhardt said. "I was going to with him and backed up to him and get a run off 2 and see what we could do, but we just kind of ran out of steam off 4. It just didn’t work out for us. It was a good move, it just didn’t work out."

Johnson won his second Daytona 500 after a miserable Daytona run in recent years. He won the 2006 Daytona 500 but finished 27th or worse in the last six Daytona 500s, including 42nd after a crash on Lap 2 last year.

He held the lead on the final restart with six laps to go and held off Biffle, Patrick and Earnhardt over the next five laps and was able to withstand Earnhardt's last-lap charge.

“They gave me a fast car, and I had a lot of confidence being up front and leading the train knowing how fast this car was," said Johnson, who made his 400th career start. "We wanted to get this 500."

Johnson also expressed concern in victory lane for fans who were injured when car parts and debris flew into the grandstands during at Nationwide Series crash at Daytona on Saturday. More than 30 fans were injured and at least two were still hospitalized Sunday.

“We send our thoughts and prayers to everyone hurt in the grandstands," Johnson said.

Johnson also won the first race with NASCAR's new Gen-6 car for Chevrolet.

"Very happy to win the very first race in the Gen-6 car. It was an awesome day," Johnson said.

After a caution with 23 laps to, Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski held the lead ahead of Biffle, Patrick and Jeff Gordon. But soon Johnson and Denny Hamlin entered the mix, making it a two-wide, 10-car battle for the lead.

Keselowski seemed to be in control until the final caution flag flew with six laps remaining. He started on the inside on the restart with Johnson on the outside.

"Certainly the high lane had all the speed," he said. "We caught a bad break when that yellow came out. But that's just the breaks. We were fortunate to make it through some of the wrecks today … but damn, I wanted to win this race ... but it wasn't in the cards today."

After running single file most of the day, the field bunched up after the caution and drivers engaged in a wild two- and three-wide battle for the win.

Keselowski, who had damage to his car from two earlier crashes, powered to the front and battled Johnson, the driver he beat for the 2012 championship, for the lead.

With the leaders racing frantically, a caution for debris on Lap 191 halted the race and settled things down briefly. It also set up the dramatic sprint to the finish.

Patrick, the first woman to start on the pole for a Sprint Cup race, had a strong showing. She took the lead on Lap 90 and led two laps to become the first female driver to lead a Sprint Cup race.

She ran in the lead draft most of the day and led again when the leaders pitted under green around Lap 130.

An early crash knocked out three of the race’s top contenders. Kasey Kahne, running third, had to check up on Lap 33 and Kyle Busch bumped him, sending Kahne spinning in front of a big pack of traffic and igniting an eight-car wreck.

The chain-reaction crash also claimed Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, two heavy favorites to win the race. Harvick had won both races he had been in during Speedweeks and Stewart was trying to win his 20h race at Daytona, but his first in the Daytona 500.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch and 2010 winner Jamie McMurray also were taken out in the crash.

Another top contender fell out on Lap 155 when the car of Matt Kenseth, the 2009 and 2012 winner, began smoking. Kenseth, who had led the most laps, had to take his car to the garage with an engine problem.

The three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were running 1-2-3 at the time, but three laps later, Kenseth teammate Kyle Busch, who won one of the qualifying races Thursday, also went to the garage with an engine problem, leaving teammate Denny Hamlin in the lead but with no teammate to help him.

About 20 laps later, a third Toyota driver had engine problems with Martin Truex Jr., who was running second, going to the garage.

After the early wreck, the race was tame for the next 100 laps as the field settled down into mostly single-file drafting. That all changed on Lap 138, when another multicar crash erupted.

The nine-car crash started when someone got into the back of Brad Keselowski near the rear of the field, taking out Keselowski, Carl Edwards, 2011 winner Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others.




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