DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2019) – Jimmie Johnson. Remember him? Just in case you’d forgotten about the capabilities of the two-time DAYTONA 500 champion – and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion – he served up a reminder Sunday by making a trip to Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m here to win races,” Johnson said.
In the morning, Johnson won his age division (Men’s 40-44) in the Daytona Beach Half Marathon. In the afternoon, after triggering a multi-car incident, Johnson was declared the winner of the 41st annual Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.
The 75-lap Advance Auto Parts Clash (with scheduled segments of 25 and 50 laps) is a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series non-points/all-star event. The 20-driver field featured pole winners from the 2018 season, past Clash champions, past DAYTONA 500 champions who competed full-time in 2018 and drivers who qualified for the 2018 Monster Energy Series Playoffs.
Johnson, also the Advance Auto Parts Clash champion in 2005, was battling front-running Paul Menard for the lead following a Lap 48 restart that came after an eight-minute red-flag period due to rain. On Lap 57, Johnson attempted an inside pass with his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet and side drafted the left rear of Menard’s No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford. Menard appeared to slightly block the move. The move caused Menard – who had the dominant car, leading 51 laps – to spin. That led to an incident involving a total of 17 cars.
Johnson scooted away from the trouble that brought out the caution. Minutes later the red flag came out because of rain. Soon afterward, NASCAR halted the event after 59 laps to give Johnson his first victory since June 2017. Former DAYTONA 500 champion Kurt Busch finished second followed by Brad Keselowski.
“Knowing the rain was coming – we could see it coming – I knew that was probably my lap to make the move,” Johnson said. “I had a great ride down the back. I got below him before he blocked it. And then I think he came down a little to defend and block.
“Certainly hate to see all these cars torn up. I’m here and making my move. I think it was more of a racing thing than anything. I didn’t drive through a car and cause a wreck.”
For the second-straight year, DAYTONA 500 Qualifying Presented By Kroger and the Advance Auto Parts Clash combined for an afternoon doubleheader. Prior to the Clash, William Byron, driving the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports (HMS), won the pole for the 61st annual DAYTONA 500 set for Sunday, Feb. 17, with a lap of 194.305 mph on the historic DIS 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Byron’s teammate and last year’s pole winner Alex Bowman (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) qualified second at 194.154. Bowman led the first round of single-car qualifying which pared the field to 12 drivers for the final round.
And if that wasn’t enough for the storied Hendrick organization, Johnson and two-time DAYTONA 500 polesitter Chase Elliott (No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet) completed a top-four qualifying sweep for HMS.
The two-round qualifying session “locked in” Byron and Bowman for front-row starts in the DAYTONA 500 and also established the grids for Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel, a pair of 150-mile races that determine the DAYTONA 500 grid after the front row. Byron and Bowman will start on the respective Duel race poles.
Byron’s first Monster Energy Series pole gave Hendrick Motorsports its 13th DAYTONA 500 pole – and a record fifth consecutive in “The Great American Race.” For Chevrolet, it marked their 700th pole position in the Monster Energy Series.
“I think we were realistic; we probably thought we were going to be somewhere in the hunt,” said Byron, 21 and starting his second season in the Monster Energy Series in Jeff Gordon’s iconic No. 24 ride.
“Our guys have done a lot of work … it’s kind of been a hard‑working off‑season for them and there have been a lot of things in the works, so I was excited to get down here and see what we had. We’re looking forward to kind of checking this off and going on to [next] Sunday.”
Byron’s new crew chief is Johnson’s former one – Chad Knaus, who guided Johnson to seven Monster Energy Series championships.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the 24 team and of Hendrick Motorsports,” Knaus said. “This is such a huge accomplishment.”
“I’m so happy for William – and for all our guys,” added team owner Rick Hendrick. “We’re just pumped. This is a great way to start the year … this is ‘the deal’ to start on the pole at Daytona.”
Tickets for the 61st annual DAYTONA 500 and all other Daytona International Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season. (Daytona Speedway PR) (image courtesy of NASCAR Media)