DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson capped a self-proclaimed “productive day” in Florida by snapping a near two-year winless drought during Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Johnson never led a green-flag lap during the annual non-points exhibition event that spotlights the previous season’s pole winners, but survived contact with Paul Menard and a 17-car crash late in the race to notch the victory at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
The win was Johnson’s first of any kind in NASCAR competition since June 4, 2017 at Dover (Del.) Int’l Speedway, when he made a late pass of Kyle Larson to top the AAA 400 Drive for Autism.
Sunday’s finish to the Clash was markedly similar to that Dover event.
After two earlier red flags for rain, Johnson was running second to Menard when he got a push from Kurt Busch going down the backstretch. The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion ducked low in an effort to make the pass, but Menard moved down to block and the two made contact.
That tangle of sheet metal sent Menard spinning back into the pack at the entrance to turn three, while Johnson kept his No. 48 Ally Financial Chevrolet going straight and came back to the caution flag as the leader.
Moments later, the skies opened up and hard rain officially drew an end to the Clash, which was shortened to 59 laps due to the inclement weather.
After climbing from his car, Johnson pointed out the sense of urgency due to the impending weather.
“That was a product of knowing the rain was coming,” said Johnson. “We could see it coming, I knew that was probably the lap I had to make the move and I got a really good run going down the back. I got below him before he blocked, and I think we got together when he came down to defend and block. I was hopeful that the (No.) 1 (Kurt Busch) was going to follow me through … but it was what it was.
“I think it was more of a racing thing than anything,” Johnson added. “I feel sorry for Paul and all the cars that got torn up, because you never want to see that happen, but I’m here to win races.”
Menard disagreed and placed some of the blame on Johnson’s shoulders after the race.
“Jimmie pulled out, I moved down a little bit and the next thing I knew, I was getting turned in the left-rear (tire),” said Menard. “Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks. It’s unfortunate.
“We had a really fast Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang and led a lot of laps, but I’m bummed we tore up a new car for no reason.”
Only four cars survived the race-ending crash without damage, with Johnson leading Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney across the finish line before the incoming rain washed out the final laps.
Alex Bowman was scored fifth among the drivers involved in the carnage, followed by Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez.
Sunday’s effort was Johnson’s second-career Clash win and first since 2005, when the race was still known as the Budweiser Shootout.
Though it wasn’t a points-paying victory, Johnson said the performance was a huge shot in the arm for both he and new crew chief Kevin Meendering, who replaced Chad Knaus atop Johnson’s pit box following the conclusion of last season.
“This feels really good,” noted Johnson. “I’m really happy about a great day for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet. With Kevin Meendering leading this team, there’s been a lot of new things going on, but we’re extremely excited to win this one. It’s been a while, for sure.
“It’s not a points race, but it’s a good start.”
For complete race results, advance to the next page.