Johnson wins thrilling Daytona 500

Hendrick Motorsport's Jimmie Johnson won the opening round of the 2006 Nextel Cup season, after a thrilling Daytona 500 race

Johnson wins thrilling Daytona 500

Johnson won following a two-lap shootout for the victory from a green-white-chequer finish, and he was declared the winner when the field was frozen following a crash by Greg Biffle on the final corner.

Coincidentally, Johnson won the 48th running of the event in the number 48 car.

Johnson's main rival for the win in those last two laps was Ryan Newman. The Penske racing driver restarted the race in second, but Johnson hugged the inside line around the 2.5-mile Super Speedway, forcing Newman to go to the outside line.

Out of the aerodynamic draft, Newman fell back from Johnson to battle with Casey Mears. The latter edged Newman just when Biffle's crash froze the scoring.

Newman had been battling with Johnson throughout the early part of the race, and even forced Johnson onto the grass in the pitlane when the pair exited together.

It was Johnson's first Daytona 500 victory, coming eight days after his car caused controversy when it failed a post race template inspection after Pole Qualifying.

Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus was ejected from the track as a result, but Jeff Gordon's team member Darian Grubb stepped up, winning his maiden Nextel Cup race.

"I can't believe it, say it again!," Johnson exclaimed when he was told he won the Daytona 500. "Chad is going to be at home right now kicking the TV! But he made this race car what it is - a winner.

"I've made mistakes before, and I caused wrecks. But we have finally won a restrictor plate race. I am going to dedicate this win to all the haters of the 48 team.

"I always believed that this team could still win it. Not having Chad no doubt was a handicap. I knew we could still win because everybody stepped up to the plate.

"I knew that I need to get a clean start, and the car was on the rails on the inside. When Casey Mears - a former buddy of mine from sprint cars - was behind me, and I knew at that point I was in good shape.

"I've now won the Daytona 500!"

Mears, having won last month's Rolex 24 Hours at the same track, was classified second when the yellow came out, with Newman third.

Newman was disappointed Mears didn't work with him to try and pass Johnson.

"Casey gave me a good shove to get me out of the way but didn't choose to go with us," Newman said. "But it is the best way we have ever started the season."

However Mears claimed he was ready to draft with Newman.

"I kind of waved to Newman saying I'll go with you," Mears said, "but then he pulled out, the 38 [Elliott Sadler] had a big run on me, and I had to stay at the bottom. It is tough. You gotta take what works for you."

Gatorade Duel winner Sadler finished fourth ahead of Tony Stewart, who put in a strong recovery drive having battled with adversity all day, with accidents and penalties from NASCAR.

It was a race filled with cautions and drama.

Pepsi 400 at Daytona winner Stewart, along with last year's Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, was behind early following an incident at Turn 2 on lap 47.

Gordon appeared to get loose on Turn 2, while Stewart ran wide and slammed the concrete wall. Gordon continued to understeer and the reigning Nextel Cup champion nudged the back of Gordon's Hendrick Motorsport machine, before Gordon hit the wall himself.

Both had long pitstops while their respective teams surveyed the damage, however neither lost a lap as a result.

Roush Racing's Jamie McMurray fell down the order on the second pitstop when his car fell off the jacks during his regular stop, and his team had to repair the damage.

Evernham Motorsports' Jeremy Mayfield had early problems in his Dodge Charger. He punctured a tyre on lap 33 following a sideswipe with Greg Biffle, losing a lap changing tyres. He lost four more laps pitting for repairs when his damaged fender continued to cut into the same tyre.

The first major multi-car pile-up occurred on lap 79, courtesy of Jeff Green.

Green lost control of his car entering Turn 3 and ran on the infield before careering back up the track and hitting the wall hard. JJ Yeley and Joe Nemechek had nowhere to go, and Kyle Petty went into the back of Nemechek.

As Petty rebounded from the accident, Roush Racing's Carl Edwards went straight into him at the bottom of the corner and onto the grass, actually riding up on his bonnet.

Green claimed the incident was caused when he was hit into the spin by Dale Jarrett. All but Edwards eventually got going again after repairs.

Gordon's day got worse later on, pitting several times to try and stay on the lead lap, having run over debris after taking to the grass to avoid the pile-up.

On lap 106, Stewart was involved in more trouble. Having complained to NASCAR about bump drafting last week, he was involved in his own spot of 'aggressive driving' sideswiping Matt Kenseth into the infield before Turn 3.

Kenseth, just like Jeff Green, turned into the wall on the outside of Turn 3, but this time was missed by everyone. Mike Wallace, Bobby Labonte and Jarrett incredibly avoided him by inches.

After brief repairs Kenseth rejoined, and Stewart was sent to the back of the field as a penalty of his aggressive driving.

It then got worse for Stewart. On his next pitstop he ran over the jack on the exit and was penalised by NASCAR again as a result. Like before, he had to drop to the tail-end of the lead line at the restart.

Kurt Busch was having a strong race in his first points-paying race for Penske Racing, having spent 154 laps in the top 10. However, a tyre exploded on lap 186 after he was hit from Jamie McMurray on the backstretch, sending him into the wall and into retirement.

McMurray retired himself on lap 195 after an accident with pole-sitter Jeff Burton, as the two went into the wall, collecting Bobby Labonte. Budweiser shootout winner Denny Hamlin was also involved but wasn't seriously damaged.

The race broke a record for the Daytona 500, with 18 different leaders - the highest number in the prestigious event.

Pos Driver Make Laps 1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 203 2. Casey Mears Dodge 203 3. Ryan Newman Dodge 203 4. Elliott Sadler Ford 203 5. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 203 6. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 203 7. Brian Vickers Chevrolet 203 8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 203 9. Ken Schrader Ford 203 10. Dale Jarrett Ford 203 11. Kasey Kahne Dodge 203 12. Mark Martin Ford 203 13. Robby Gordon Chevrolet 203 14. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 203 15. Matt Kenseth Ford 203 16. Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet 203 17. Terry Labonte Chevrolet 203 18. Michael Waltrip Dodge 203 19. Bill Elliott Chevrolet 203 20. Kirk Shelmerdine Chevrolet 203 21. Brent Sherman Dodge 203 22. Dave Blaney Dodge 203 23. Kyle Busch Chevrolet 203 24. Mike Wallace Dodge 203 25. Kevin Lepage Ford 203 26. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 203 27. Travis Kvapil Chevrolet 203 28. David Stremme Dodge 203 29. Reed Sorenson Dodge 203 30. Denny Hamlin Chevrolet 203 31. Greg Biffle Ford 203 32. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 202 33. Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 200 34. Sterling Marlin Chevrolet 200 35. Bobby Labonte Dodge 197 36. Jeremy Mayfield Dodge 197 37. Jamie McMurray Ford 196 38. Kurt Busch Dodge 187 39. Kyle Petty Dodge 173 40. Hermie Sadler Ford 169 41. J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 157 42. Jeff Green Chevrolet 156 43. Carl Edwards Ford 78 
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