Johnson wins, Byron gets pole in Daytona


Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.

Jimmie Johnson’s youngest daughter prays every night for Daddy to win a race. When Johnson scuffled through the worst season of his career, he felt the strain of not reaching victory lane.

“It was putting some pressure on me,” Johnson said.

Johnson called the invocation “cute to hear.”

He didn’t feel the same about critical comments saying Johnson was past his prime. The 43-year-old Johnson tweeted “I’m far from done” in the offseason, and with a risky move in the rain, he showed there’s plenty left.

Johnson triggered a wreck that wiped out nearly the entire 20-car field at Daytona and zipped to the lead to win the rain-shortened exhibition Clash on Sunday.

The seven-time Cup Series champion failed to win a race for the first time in his career in 2018, but a dose of aggression put him back in victory lane during the opening weekend of Speedweeks. Johnson’s win capped a banner day for Hendrick Motorsports: teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman locked in the front row for the Daytona 500 earlier in the day in qualifying.

The last Daytona 500 pole-sitter to win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000, and Johnson’s victory doesn’t count in the official NASCAR record book.

Kurt Busch finished second, with Joey Logano in third, Ryan Blaney in fourth and Bowman in fifth.

Daytona QUALIFYING

Byron put Hendrick Motorsports in a familiar position: on the pole for the Daytona 500. His bigger goal is to make the starting spot pay dividends for the NASCAR powerhouse.

The 21-year-old Byron and 25-year-old teammate Alex Bowman locked in the front row for “The Great American Race” during qualifying laps Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. They comprise the youngest front row in Daytona 500 history.

The coveted starting spot hasn’t meant much for NASCAR’s season opener over the last two decades, though. The last Daytona 500 pole-sitter to win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000.

The last four – Hendrick’s Jeff Gordon, Chase Elliott (twice) and Bowman – have failed to notch a top-10 finish.

Byron and Bowman edged the other two Hendrick drivers: seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and fan favorite Elliott, who were third and fourth, respectively, with Daniel Hemric fifth. Blaney sits in 17th.

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