Johnson, Harvick give command, but fail to finish Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #84 Carvana Chevrolet, drives with a trail of smoke after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 65th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson made his first NASCAR Cup Series start in three seasons in Sunday’s Daytona 500 – driving for the Legacy Motor Club which he now holds major ownership stake in.

After joining fellow NASCAR stars that have both won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and previous Daytona 500 in giving Sunday’s starting command for this 75th Anniversary season, Johnson rolled off the grid 39th in the No. 84 Chevrolet.

A two-time Daytona 500 winner, Johnson knows how to run this race and sure enough had worked his way all the way into the top 10 in the closing laps before a pair of overtime restarts. He was ultimately collected in a 13-car accident after the first OT green flag, however, and ended up 31st in the final standings.

Johnson will also compete in a handful of other NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023, although he’s only confirmed this summer’s inaugural Chicago Street Race so far. And certainly, Sunday’s effort at Daytona excited fans and invigorated the champ.

“All in all, just a great day,” Johnson said. “I hate that we didn’t get to the finish line, but we got a lot closer than I thought. If I would have taken a bet before the race started, I would have thought some issues [would happen] earlier than that, but we had a great day.

“The Carvana car was awesome. Very, very proud of this race team. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the finish line.”

Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick was also with Johnson giving the starting command. He will be credited with a 12th-place finish in his final Daytona 500 start. The driver of the No. 4 Ford was among those collected in a seven-car accident with 17 laps remaining, but the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion soldiered on and finished the race.

Harvick, 47, who announced he would be retiring from competition at the end of the 2023 season, has had a strong career showing in NASCAR’s premier race. He won the 2007 Daytona 500, finished runner-up in 2009 and 2015, has nine top-five finishes and led 284 laps in his 22 career starts.

Short Strokes

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet, finished 24th – the highest finishing rookie. … There were 204 Green Flag Passes for the Lead – most all-time in a race at Daytona International Speedway – easily eclipsing the previous record mark of 177 set in 2014 DAYTONA 500. …There were 21 different race leaders – tying the 2010 mark for second most all-time. …The 52 lead changes were fourth all-time; and most since 2011 (74).