BY CHAD DARE
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — When push came to shove, Jimmie Johnson was the man in the right spot on Sunday.
For the second time in his NASCAR career, Johnson claimed the Daytona 500 holding off a late race charge from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. In the process, Johnson became the first winner in NASCAR's new Gen-6 stock car.
"Plate racing is an awfully tough form of racing and there's a lot of luck involved,'' Johnson said. "You can't ride and wait for things to happen. You have to race all day long and fight for track position.
"This race car was so good. Chad Knaus and all of the Hendrick Motorsports gave ma a fast car and I could really stay up front all day long. I had a lot of confidence those final few laps leading the train because I knew just how fast this car was.''
Earnhardt went from about eight to second on the final lap, but his charge came up just short as Johnson beat him across the finish line.
"I couldn't have done much without Mark (Martin) helping me there at the end,'' Earnhardt said. "I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking as we come off of turn No. 2 on that last lap. I felt like we need to make the move a little earlier than off of (turn No.) 4.
"Once we come to turn No. 4, we kind of ran out of steam, we didn't have enough to get a run on Jimmie.''
Rounding out the top five were Brad Keselowski, the defending NASCAR champion, and Ryan Newman, the Purdue graduate from South Bend, Ind.
Danica Patrick, the first woman to win the pole for the Daytona 500, finished eighth and on Sunday, she became the first woman to lead a lap at the Great American Race. Additionally, she is just the 13th racer - male or female - to lead both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
"I'm honored,'' the Patrick, the native of Roscoe, Ill., "But, again these are things that just happen along the way. I'm on the quest to be the best drive, run up front, get to Victory Lane.
"These things happen and I'm proud. But they are not the ulitimate goal.''
Casey Mears, driving the No. 13 Geico Ford and associated with Danville agent Doug Barnette, was involved in Lap 34 accident along with Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Mears wound up finishing 29th.