Jimmie Johnson sped away from the field after a restart with six laps left in Sunday's Daytona 500 and held off a charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the 55th running of the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.
The victory was the 61st of Johnson's career in his 400th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his second win in NASCAR's most prestigious race.
Earnhardt finished second for the third time in the last four Daytona 500. Mark Martin ran third, followed by defending series champion Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman. Greg Biffle ran sixth and Regan Smith seventh.
Polesitter Danica Patrick came home eighth, the best-ever finish by a woman in the Daytona 500.
After a restart on Lap 182, following the fifth caution of the race for Jeff Burton's hard contact with the outside wall at the entrance to the tri-oval, Keselowski and Johnson ran side-by-side at the front of the pack, trading the lead as their respective lanes gained momentum.
A caution for debris on Lap 192 set up the six-lap dash to the finish.
Patrick made history when she led the field to green from the pole position. On Lap 90, she reached another milestone. Surging to the lead after a restart, she paced the field on Laps 90 and 91, and, in doing so, became the first female driver to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 and the first female to lead a green-flag Lap in the Cup series.
(Janet Guthrie led Laps 43 through 47 under caution in the Nov. 20, 1977 Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway, the only five laps she led in 33 career Cup starts.)
Later in the race, Patrick led three more laps, for a total of five, to tie Guthrie's five.
The Toyota Camrys of Joe Gibbs Racing were running 1-2-3 as the race neared the three-quarter mark, with Matt Kenseth pacing Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. On Lap 150, however, Kenseth, who led four times for a race-high 86 laps, brought his car to pit road, having felt a vibration in the drive train. Busch did the same two laps later, with a blown engine.
That left Hamlin at the point as the field ran single-file behind him, in a lull before the late-race pyrotechnics.
A nine-car accident on Lap 138, thinned an already depleted field. With most cars running single-file around the top of the track, Keselowski tapped David Reutimann and dropped abruptly to the apron in Turn 1.
That triggered a melee as cars checked up behind Keselowski. Carl Edwards was a victim of the accident, as ill fortune at Daytona continued to haunt the driver who already had wrecked four cars at Daytona this year.
Other casualties included 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., making his first start as a full-time Cup driver in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion.
The first major wreck of the race -- on Lap 33 as the double-file lead pack of cars exited the tri-oval -- dashed the hopes of former Daytona 500 winners Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray, as well as those of pre-race favorites Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne.
As the field stacked up toward Turn 1, Kyle Busch tagged the back of Kahne's car, turning Kahne into Juan Pablo Montoya's Chevrolet SS and igniting a nine-car incident that also damaged the cars of defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Casey Mears.
Keselowski suffered damage to the both sides of his Ford, pinballing off both Montoya and Harvick, but was able to continue. Kurt Busch lost a lap on pit road with the nose of his Chevy caved in from contact during the wreck. Casey Mears, who had qualified 17th, also sustained significant damage.