Jimmie Johnson led just 25 laps en route to his sixth career victory at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday following a late race restart that moved the race to overtime.
In a car that was sponsored by the movie Superman, Johnson needed to use super powers in overtime while restarting in third, sitting behind Kevin Harvick on the bottom line with two laps to go. He pushed the No. 4 car passed leader Denny Hamlin and hooked the white line going into Turn 1 which allowed him to get the lead down the backstretch.
This was Johnson’s 77th career victory, but without Kyle Busch getting into the wall after cutting a tire with two laps to go, he would have been stuck outside the top five.
In the second to last stint of the race, the No. 48 car was on older tires, thus making him fall through the field after restarting as the race leader.
“I knew we had a great car and that caution fell at a bad time the run before,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with those guys. I got a great run off of 2 [Turn] and thought I had a shot at this thing that I didn’t expect to have. I cleared him and kind of got away.”
Harvick placed his Chevrolet second on Sunday after dominating the race, leading 142 laps. Coming off a victory at Phoenix, he had the best car on the short and long runs, something that the team worked on in practice on Saturday.
“It was the worst it had taken off on restarts,” Harvick said of the final run. “We weren’t good on restarts for four or five laps, unless we were all by ourselves. The 48 was able to hang with us and we just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to and didn’t have the front tires turning.”
After leading on the green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin finished third. On the final pit stop the No. 11 pit crew gained four positions giving their driver the lead.
On the restart Joey Logano spun his tires, not allowing him to push Hamlin and race for the win. Hamlin led just two laps, not coming until after the scheduled 200th lap.
Logano came home in fourth, while Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. rounded out the top five. Chase Elliott came home just outside the top five in sixth as the highest finishing rookie.
AJ Allmendinger picked up his first top 10 since Pocono last August. He started shotgun on the field and raced his way into the top 10 in the first quarter of the race, where he remained there the majority of the afternoon.
Flat tires and pit road penalties were the story of the race. There were just under 10 flat tires on the afternoon the last one being Busch’s, but the biggest one coming on Lap 48. Kyle Larson cut a tire going down the backstretch, losing control of his car and pounding the inside wall. All four tires came off the ground.
“We were struggling all day,” said Larson. “We were really bad. And just on that backstretch, my left rear tire got cut and spun me to the outside wall and then spun me back into the inside wall. By the time I could hit the brakes it must have ripped the brake line and I had no brakes.”
All four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas had to serve pit road penalties during the 400-mile event. Carl Edwards, whom rebounded to finish seventh, had one with 80 laps to go, but played strategy late in the race where he led at one point with 40 laps remaining.
Hamlin had to serve two penalties, one for speeding and one for pitting too soon on Lap 25. The other top Toyota team, Martin Truex, Jr. had to serve a penalty late in the race. He finished the race 32nd after Logano put him in the wall late in the race. The No. 78 team was out front for 21 laps.
The other big incident came on Lap 120 as Kasey Kahne hooked Danica Patrick and sent her into the wall heading into Turn 1. Like Larson, the No. 10 car got airborne and she was not pleased with the driver of the No. 5 car.
The Cup Series will return to action on April 3, beating and banging on the half-mile paperclip, Martinsville Speedway.
In the two practice sessions on Saturday in preparation for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, Joe Gibbs Racing looked to be the team to beat. In each of the two one-hour sessions, it was a JGR Toyota who set down a fast lap in the opening minutes that would not be beat.
Over the span of the two hours there were three separate incidents that would send two teams to backup cars.
Carl Edwards paced the opening hour of practice at 187.906 mph. After qualifying fifth on Friday, the driver of the No. 19 car is looking to return to Victory Lane in Southern California for the first time since 2008.
He was just ahead of another Toyota, Martin Truex, Jr. with Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 team welcomed back crew chief, Cole Pearn, following his one-race suspension last week in Phoenix. He put down a lap at 187.632 mph.
Third quick was Ryan Newman at 186.640 mph, more than two-tenths of a second off the fast time. Kyle Busch was fourth and pole-sitter Austin Dillon rounded out the top five at 186.587 mph.
Just outside of the top five was Paul Menard in sixth, making all three Richard Childress Racing cars inside of the top six. The top rookie was Brian Scott in seventh. Two winners so far this season were mired down below 20th, Denny Hamlin 23rd and defending winner Brad Keselowski was just 24th fastest in the morning session.
The first incident of the day came when Aric Almirola slid into the wall off Turn 2, causing significant cosmetic damage. The team would repair the car and return to the track in the second session. The No. 43 car was 19th fastest.
The latter incident came when Kurt Busch pounded the wall right where Almirola did 20 minutes prior. The No. 41 car was not as lucky as the Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup car, something that Busch appreciated because he was not happy with his primary car on Saturday morning.
In the first two minutes of Happy Hour, Matt Kenseth recorded a lap at 185.419 mph. This practice was in race condition as the Sprint Cup race on Sunday will start at the time that this practice ended.
After being quickest in the first practice, Edwards was second fast, .015 seconds behind his JGR teammate. The No. 19 car was also one of the best on the long runs as were all of the Toyota teams. Toyota is looking for its third win in the last four races at the Auto Club Speedway, which is the backyard of TRD's headquarters.
A trio of Fords filled the next three speeds, led by rookie Ryan Blaney at 185.161 mph. Joey Logano was fourth quickest and Almirola rounded out the top five after getting his car back on track following the incident in the opening session.
Dillon finished the session the lowest he's been all week in sixth, just under a tenth of a second behind Kenseth. Keselowski made improvements to his car and finish Happy Hour 12th.
While the one-lap speed didn't show it, Kevin Harvick had the fastest car on the long run. He was only 27th on the speed chart, but had very little fall off in his tires compared to other teams. The California native is a two-time winner at his home track, the last win coming in 2011 with RCR.
The biggest incident of the day came 32 minutes into final practice when Kyle Larson got loose getting into Turn 4, by the time he could correct it Greg Biffle drilled him in the rear and the tandem spun to the infield. The No. 16 car was on fresh tires, going approximately 20 mph faster than the No. 42 car at the time.
Larson would go to a backup car with a ton of cosmetic damage to the right rear of the car, while it looks like Biffle will remain in his primary car on Sunday. Before the incident the No. 42 team had the 26th fastest time, while the No. 16 team had the 15th fastest lap.
The green flag will drop at 3:30 p.m. Sunday to start the Auto Club 400 where another driver will look to clinch their birth into the Chase.
Denny Hamlin had the dominant car in the Daytona 500, leading a race-high 95 laps. The Sprint Unlimited winner last Saturday evening was victorious of Martin Truex, Jr. in the closest finish in the race’s 58-year history.
The No. 11 car margin of victory was .011 seconds. All day long it was Toyota’s in the front of the field, led by the foursome of Joe Gibbs Racing and contributed by Furniture Row Racing in its first race in a Camry.
Hamlin was running fourth as the field passed the finish line with one to go. Going into Turn 1 he made a bold move to the outside getting a push from Kevin Harvick, drafting him all the way to third when race leader Matt Kenseth went to block the No. 11 car, the two made contact sending the No. 20 team to the back.
It was then a dog fight down the front stretch to see who was going to claim victory, but in the end it was Hamlin who just edged Truex by inches.
“It’s storybook,” Hamlin said. “You want to win the close ones, it’s what makes it exciting. You make a pass on the last lap to win the Daytona 500. We all want to win for the Gibbs family because that is what they do. It’s good to see a family organization like this win the biggest race of the year.”
This marks Toyota’s first Daytona 500 win as an organization and its Joe Gibbs Racing’s first Daytona 500 win since 1993 when Dale Jarrett took the No. 18 team to victory.
In his first race back in a Toyota, Truex finished in a disappointing second and came up just short of writing his name in the history books as a Daytona 500 champion.
Though, he only led two laps on the afternoon, he was in a backup car after crashing in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. He believes that the only shot he had at the victory was Kenseth’s move to block Hamlin.
“I felt like Matt (Kenseth) moving up to block that run, it gave us the best opportunity to win,” Truex said. “Without that we weren’t going to have that opportunity. I was really planning on trying to push Matt till off of four.”
365 days following his vicious crash in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona, Kyle Busch finished third in his first race back in the Great American Race since 2014.
There were stints in the race that the No. 18 car was the car out front pacing the field for 19 laps. This is his best career finish in a Daytona 500.
The first non-Toyota finisher was Kevin Harvick, whom finished fourth. The No. 4 car was near the front for the majority of the first run of the race, until the car wiggled off Turn 4, causing him to have an incredible save.
“The problem for us started early in the race when I got spun out and lost track position and never really got the track position back until the very end of the race,” Harvick said. “We were really in a good spot there as we were coming to the checkered flag. I just wanted to be that first car in the outside line and Denny wounded up popping out in front of us and winning the race.”
Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. He had to overcome an incident on Lap 56 where his No. 19 Camry got turned into the outside wall costing him to lose a couple of laps. After getting back on the lead lap, he methodically worked his way up to run with his teammates and evidently found them on the last restart with 12 laps to go.
The right front of the car was torn off following the checkered flag, causing Edwards to wonder how he was able to stay up in the lead pack, drafting and having a shot at the victory.
Last year’s Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano finished just outside the top five in sixth. He was very aggressive throughout the entirety of the event, but could never get his Fusion out front. With a couple of laps to go he made a move trying to gain track position and go to the front, but had no help.
Regan Smith placed eighth in the 500, one position short of his career best in this event. However, for a deal that got signed one month ago to the day, putting him back full-time in a Cup car with Tommy Baldwin Racing, he considered this experience as an “awesome race.”
After leading going into Turn 3 on the final lap Kenseth came home in a disappointing 14th. He was roughly 1000 yards from cementing his legacy has a three-time Daytona 500 winner, but dropped 13 positions in the time back to the checkered flag.
The No. 20 car was out front for 40 laps, second most of all drivers, but knows that the restrictor plate tracks fill the minority of the schedule.
The complex of the race changed on Lap 170 when pre-race favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun into the inside wall. After having a big run on the outside he overcorrected his car in Turn 4 and lost control.
The disappointing 36th-place finish is not how the 13-time most popular driver wanted to start off his year. This put an end to his four consecutive top five-streak in the Daytona 500.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott had an eventful day from the very first lap. After being out front for the opening three circuits, the No. 24 lost control of his car out of Turn 4 much like his teammate did later in the race. A 37th-place result is not the way that the Cup rookie wanted to start off his campaign.
After one of the more exciting Daytona 500 in recent years, the Cup Series takes its circus to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend to truly start off the new season.
The Sprint Cup Series took part in two practice sessions on Friday afternoon. Like every other year in Speedweeks, all of the cars don’t particularly make a lap on the track. However, the car that crashed in the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday evening saw it as an opportunity to test out their new Daytona 500 car.
Opening practice was strictly for one car speed as there was no drafting. After crashing in the final lap of his Duel race on Thursday, Jimmie Johnson was quickest at a speed of 194.083 mph. Other than Brian Scott who also crashed on the last lap of his Duel, the No. 48 car was the only team to hit track in its backup car.
Scott placed the No. 44 car 12th out of the 13 cars who took part in opening practice. Denny Hamlin who led 13 laps on Thursday night and won the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday was second fast at a speed of 193.861 mph.
Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott posted the third fastest time, followed by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Kasey Kahne in the top five.
As well as recording the fastest overall lap, Johnson also ran 24 laps, the most out of all 13 drivers in the first practice session.
During the second Cup Series practice 31 cars took time led by Hamlin. While running in a pack, he put a lap up of 199.658 mph. The top five teams in the latter practice were all part of the Toyota camp in Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.
Thursday night Duel winner Kyle Busch was second quick, followed by Martin Truex, Jr. in his backup car. The No. 78 car ran 15 laps with his new racecar and felt good about how it felt in the draft.
“As far as I can tell it feels real similar,” Truex said of his backup car. “The only drafting we did in our primary was the other day with the Gibbs cars and our Toyota teammates, basically, the same situation as today. It’s hard to tell until you get into race conditions. Hopefully, it will react as well as it did last night in the big pack. I don’t know if it was the strongest car, but it was a good fifth to 10th-place car.”
Carl Edwards finished the practice with the fourth quickest lap. The No. 19 car was on track for 22 laps, the most of any driver in the second practice session. ‘
After crashing on Thursday night, Matt Kenseth had a hot lap of 198.566 mph in his backup car. The No. 20 team was scheduled to start on the outside of the front row in the Daytona 500 until the crash last night where he got into the back of Truex.
“It’s hard to tell with not many cars out there,” Kenseth said of how his backup car is. “We probably won’t know until the race gets going on Sunday, but the speed seemed to be reasonable.”
Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano have formed an alliance of sorts this weekend as they finished practice sixth and seventh after helping each other to second and third-place finishes on Thursday night. Both teams ran for 10 laps and never left each other’s bumpers.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished the practice session in 11th. The No. 88 car named “Amelia” has never finished worse than third in any race that it has ever been entered in at either Daytona or Talladega. With a win in Duel one on Thursday, Earnhardt is one of the favorites for Sunday.
Johnson finished the second practice session with the 12th fastest time and AJ Allmendinger was 28th in his first time out on track with a backup car.
After receiving damage in his Can-Am Duel race Kurt Busch did not participate in practice on Friday, but will take part on Saturday in the final practice.
Out of cars that ran 10 consecutive laps, Edwards had the fastest time at an average of 197.186 mph. The first four drivers in that category were also all Toyotas, as they look to be stronger than some former Speedweeks.
There is just one practice session remaining between now and the Daytona 500, which will take place at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday.
With Truex being the feel good story of the year, earning five top five and 14 top 10 finishes through 15 races and sitting second in points, the win comes with a bonus that will give him redemption after going through some tough breaks over the last few seasons.
This is not the first time that he would make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex made the exclusive club in 2013 by finishing position at the Richmond International Raceway. However, after the race had concluded, NASCAR suspected that Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the results of the race and penalized each team under the Michael Waltrip Racing banner. With the points penalty issued, this took Truex out of the Chase.
That’s not all that happened. Truex and Michael Waltrip Racing also lost NAPA as a primary sponsor that left him without a ride. He then made the switch over to the Furniture Row Racing team, which is a single car operation based out of Colorado, as a way to reset his career. He started the year strong by qualifying on the front row for the 2014 Daytona 500.
Truex found some breakthroughs throughout the season with his new team, earning five top 10 finishes in 36 races. However, that performance would not be enough as he would finish the year sitting 24th in points. Truex also had to face another tough break towards the end of the season after his girlfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"At the end of that season I felt really fortunate that there was a great ride open with the 78," said Truex in his Pocono post-race press conference. "They were just coming off their best year ever, and went into last year honestly feeling like, okay, this is going to be good. This might take a little time to get things figured out, but it's going to be good and we're going to pick up kind of where I left off, and it was just the complete opposite. It was just miserable. Nothing went our way, nothing -- we had no speed."
Truex had another fresh start at the beginning of the 2015 season. The Furniture Row Racing team changed some things within the organization by giving Truex a new crew chief. So far, those changes have been paying off very well. The 34-year old has captured one victory, five top five and 14 top 10 finishes through the first 15 races of the year. With the solid performances, Truex finds himself sitting second in points.
Truex left the Kansas Speedway as one of the dominant cars throughout the entire race. Truex led 95 laps of the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. He then backed that up two weeks later at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as he led 131 laps in the Coca-Cola 600.
Truex backed up his performance once again at the Dover International Speedway. The No. 78 ended up being one of the fastest cars all day long despite a runner-up qualifying effort. Even though he had led the most laps, Truex had fallen short of the victory once again.
While being on a hot streak for the entire season, it was destined that Truex would eventually make his way into victory lane. That win finally occurred at the Pocono Raceway – a track that he had not won at before.
Truex qualified in third on Friday and ran within the leaders once the green flag waved. He would eventually work his way towards the front to lead the 160-lap race three different times. Despite a green-white-Checker finish, Truex was able to retain the lead by holding off Kevin Harvick.
The win at Pocono Raceway finally lifted all of the personal struggles, close calls and Richmond incident in 2013. The victory celebration ended up being one of the most emotional ones that any driver has had in a long time.
"Honestly, because this team deserves to win, and I knew that," said Truex. "I've known that all year long, obviously, especially after the last couple of weeks. I felt -- I've kind of throughout my career, I've kind of got used to the disappointment, honestly, and I've learned to deal with those days where it didn't go your way, even though you didn't do anything wrong."
Truex has been on one of the most extreme roller coaster rides that any driver has faced in the history of the sport since the Richmond incident. After coming close numerous times, Truex hadn't been able to capitalize the moment.
The races at Kansas, Charlotte and Dover were major heartbreakers for Truex after falling short of the win. He has spent the last three seasons waiting to take a trip into victory lane and have a huge shot at the championship.
Not only does Truex get back into the winning spotlight, it also gives the single car operation of Furniture Row Racing back into championship contention. The last time they have scored a victory was back in 2011 at Darlington with Regan Smith behind the wheel.
"You know, I wanted to win for this team because I knew how good they were, how much they deserved it, the job they've been doing, and I've just honestly been so proud of their outlook on the way this year has gone," Truex said.
2015 seems to be the best year for Truex to make his second Chase appearance. It would also be the second time that Front Row Motorsports got into the Chase as a single car team. Their first appearance came in 2013 with Kurt Busch as the driver, making them the first single car operation to do so.
Though the team is in position to compete in the chase, Truex feels like more work needs to be done.
"There's still mountains to climb and things to conquer," he said. "We haven't won a championship. This is one race. We've got a lot of work to do yet."
Not only does Truex get redemption and a spot in the chase, it's definitely redemption in his part that no one can remove him as long as he stays inside the top 16 of the Chase Grid. This will take weight off of his shoulders as the second half of the regular season gets going next week at Sonoma.