This is Jimmie Johnson‘s year.
Well, the year that he redeems his Hendrick Motorsports team as a dynasty. On Saturday evening, Johnson did the unthinkable by becoming the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep both races at Daytona as he held off Tony Stewart to win the Coke Zero 400.
Johnson’s victory is the fourth of the year for the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet and has clearly made it clear he’s ready to win yet another title. The win was also great for Johnson as he stretched out his points lead over Clint Bowyer to 49 points even though Bowyer survived the treacherous final restart to finish fourth behind his former teammate, Kevin Harvick.
Though the majority of the first half of the race was caution-free besides Paul Menard‘s failed engine, action picked up in the second half of the race. Single file racing plagued the Coke Zero 400 for a good portion of the first part of the race. But after the caution came out for Joey Logano, the action picked up, as did the wrecks. There were five cautions after lap 70, including the “big one” on lap 150 which red-flagged the race.
It appeared that Denny Hamlin broke something in his car on the front stretch which forced him to turn right which caused the incident. Hamlin’s spin caused Jeff Gordon, A.J. Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann and Dave Blaney to end their race early as each had a shot to be victorious. However, it probably wasn’t the crazy set of incidents during the evening.
There were two wrecks on the final lap. After Marcos Ambrose got into Kasey Kahne, sending him into the inside wall of the back straightaway, NASCAR set up the green-white-checkered finish. During the final lap, Carl Edwards was sent spinning and collected several cars, but since none were parked in the middle of the track and kept going, NASCAR enabled the field to continue racing until the checkered flag.
Kurt Busch was trying to make a run on the high side but got left to dry as Johnson had help from Stewart on the low line going down the back stretch. Entering the tri-oval, Danica Patrick got turned by Casey Mears, which caused her to get into several cars including Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle and more.
Michael Waltrip was once again able to finish in the top-five as he somehow or another managed to get around all of the chaos in his No. 55 car. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the highest finishing rookie, finishing in the 11th position even though he was outrun by his girlfriend for the majority of the race.
J.J. Yeley showed that he can still drive a race car rather well, taking home his Tommy Baldwin Racing car to a 13th place finish. Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Terry Labonte finished 19th in the FAS Lane Racing No. 32 car, the best finish of the year for that team.
Talladega winner David Ragan wasn’t able to repeat his performance as his finished back in the 22nd position. Just behind him in 23rd was Bobby Labonte, who was enabled to make his return to NASCAR competition after his team replaced him with Allmendinger in a highly-questionable move last weekend. Martin Truex Jr.‘s chase chances decreased on Saturday evening after his wreck.
Truex Jr. is now 11th in points, six points behind Stewart, who jumped six positions to enter the top-10, but is also in the wild card position with Kahne. Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski‘s struggles continued as he finished 21st and is still 13th in points.
Keselowski is in danger of not making the chase, which would be the first time since NASCAR created the chase in 2004 that the reigning champion wouldn’t be able to contend for the championship.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.