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He made it farther than he did in February at Daytona International Speedway, but Jimmie Johnson still couldn’t make it to the checkered flag before bad luck swooped down and eliminated him from the 400-miler Saturday night at Daytona, this time in a multi-car accident on lap 124 of 160.
Johnson, who was eliminated in a lap-two accident during this season’s Daytona 500, ran a steady race for the first 123 laps, consistently lining up in the top-15 and swapping spots in and out of the top-10. His sole complaint was the Lowe’s Chevrolet was a tad loose, but the car became more comfortable as the race progressed.
Five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson was running nose-to-tail on the high side of the track as he rounded the oval on lap 124. He was trying to make his way to the bottom so he could head down pit road for a routine green-flag pit stop, which the team hoped would set him up to contend for the victory.
Johnson said he waved his hand out the window to indicate his intentions, as is customary before making a green-flag stop. But someone behind him didn’t see the signal, and a melee ensued. Johnson slammed hard into the inside retaining wall and was unable to drive the Lowe’s machine away. He took the mandatory ambulance ride to the infield care center where he was checked by the medical staff and released.
“I haven’t seen the video,” Johnson said. “We were all getting ready to pit, so I was waving my hand out the window down the backstretch through (Turns) 3 and 4. And as soon as I let off the gas to come to pit road, someone got into the back of me. I don’t know if they didn’t see my hand waving or what really went on, but I was just trying to get slowed down to come onto pit road, and I got hit from behind. I went down on the inside wall. As I was spinning, I could see a lot of other cars were collected, too.”
Johnson has just two top-10 results in his last 12 starts at Daytona, including finishes of 42nd and 36th this year. He also finished 35th at the other restrictor-plate race this year, in May at Talladega.
“My plate record is not looking too good this year,” added Johnson. “I hope to get all this bad luck out of the way so that when we come back (to restrictor-plate racing at Talladega) in the Chase, we can have a good finish. But it’s plate racing. I show up every time and know what can happen. Unfortunately, it does usually happen to me.”
Tony Stewart won the 400-mile event tonight to score his 47th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his fourth at Daytona. With the victory, Stewart moved into 14th on the all-time NASCAR win list. He previously was tied with NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Buck Baker. The win was Stewart’s 18th all-time at Daytona, which includes Sprint Cup Series non-points events and Nationwide Series events – second-most all-time to Dale Earnhardt. All of Stewart’s points-paying wins have come in the summer race.
Jeff Burton finished behind Stewart in the runner-up spot, while pole sitter Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Michael Waltrip and Bobby Labonte comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for a total of 23 laps, with 14 drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.
After 18 of 36 races, Earnhardt continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports stable in the championship point standings. He is in second place with 651 points, 25 back of series leader Kenseth. Johnson dropped one spot to fourth place with 618 points, 58 out of first. Kahne is 16th with 500 points, 176 out of first, followed by Jeff Gordon in 17th place with 485 points, 191 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday, July 15 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at noon.