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Jimmie Johnson needed another lap to get by the rotating tandem of cars in front of him with just one lap to go in Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway. Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Impala for Hendrick Motorsports, lined up 18th in the non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and took the lead on Lap 45. An accident on Lap 74 collected the Lowe’s Chevy, relegating Johnson to a 14th-place finish in the 82-lap race, which was extended seven laps past its scheduled distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
“That was a wild race,” Johnson said. “I am really bummed. I thought we had a chance to win this thing with the Lowe’s Chevrolet tonight. Everybody at HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) gave me an amazing race car. We were rolling. We were going well. Fun night, I’m glad Jeff (Gordon) is OK. There at the end when we hit the wall, I stared at the bottom of his car for a long time until it sat down. Luckily, it didn’t start tumbling there at the end. Just pack racing, it’s back.”
The event started with a 25-lap segment, followed by a 10-minute break and ending with a 50-lap run. Johnson reported early that his car was running hot. Crew chief Chad Knaus and the team made some adjustments to the Lowe’s Chevy during the break to improve its handling. Johnson restarted the 50-lap segment in ninth.
On Lap 56, Johnson pitted for two right-side tires and splash of gas. He restarted third and spent the ensuing laps fighting to maintain that position. On Lap 74, Johnson was in position to make a run at the lead. Then he was collected along with seven other cars in an accident, finishing 14th.
Johnson thinks fans will see a great Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 because drivers are learning to adjust to many variables.
“The rules package makes the car a lot looser than what we have seen in the past, on top of the fact that you have to be very smart with keeping your car cool,” Johnson said. “We are dealing with a ton of issues. It was fun. I think temperatures are going to be a big issue come Sunday (during the Daytona 500). I’m not sure if NASCAR will consider looking at it, but we could overheat some cars Sunday afternoon.”
Kyle Busch edged reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart by .013 of a second for the victory in the closest finish in Budweiser Shootout history. Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya comprised the remainder of the top 10.
Johnson won the Budweiser Shootout (2005) and Daytona 500 (2006). This year’s field included 25 drivers.
On-track action continues with Daytona 500 qualifying, during which the front row of the 54th annual Daytona 500 will be set. Johnson owned the pole twice in his career (2002, 2008). Qualifying is set to get underway at 1 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 19, with live coverage provided by FOX. The Gatorade Duel – twin 150-mile races which sets the rest of the Daytona 500 field – takes place at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, with live coverage on SPEED. Speedweeks culminates with the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, with live coverage provided by beginning with its pre-race show at noon.