Advance Auto Parts Clash winner Jimmie Johnson finished ninth in Sunday’s Daytona 500, but the top-10 result was hardly routine.
Driving in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race with new crew chief Kevin Meendering on his pit box, Johnson had been fighting teammate and pole winner William Byron for the lead before heading for pit road on Lap 159.
That’s when a chain-reaction wreck changed the nature of his race. Contact between the Rick Ware Racing cars of Cody Ware and BJ McLeod started a pinball-like sequence that sent the No. 31 Chevrolet of Tyler Reddick sliding toward Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet.
Contact between the cars ripped the left rear quarter panel off Johnson’s Chevy, leaving the fuel coupler dangling without support. With multiple trips to pit road, the crew got the car in running condition, but NASCAR held Johnson for two laps because it took an extra man to fuel the car.
Ultimately, Johnson got both laps back as the highest scored lapped car under two late cautions, and managed to avoid major damage the rest of the way to roll home ninth.
“Yeah, I’ve never been hit like that on pit lane,” Johnson said. “That was the start of the craziness. I don’t know if that kept us out of trouble and got us a good finish or what, but certainly not something that we were anticipating. That just set off a chain reaction of events from there.”
“There was a lot to manage that last 30 laps from an issue with trying to get the fueler neck in place to fuel the car, which resulted in a penalty. Getting those two laps back, working on the car multiple times, multiple crashes, for a first true race together as a group, a really, really brilliant day.”