Much like he did in the season's opening race, Jimmie Johnson kept the rest of the field at bay in the final laps at Daytona International Speedway to win the Coke Zero 400.
At the Daytona 500, Johnson had six laps of green flag racing to hold off any challengers. Saturday night, he had two, after the race was extended for a green-white-checker restart.
Johnson was the leader for the restart and pulled away from Kevin Harvick on the backstretch of the penultimate lap. Then, over the next lap and a half of racing, the rest of the field was jostling for second place. By the time Tony Stewart was comfortably there, there wasn't enough distance to make a move on Johnson's lead before the checkered flag as two separate crashes happened on the final lap behind the leaders.
"I think I showed strength early and a lot of guys knew that and were willing to work with me," Johnson, who led for 94 of the race's 161 laps and became the first driver since Bobby Allison to win both of Daytona's races in a single season, said. "And kind of help me through situations which was great, and I don't know if I really made a bad move tonight so I'm pretty proud of that."
There's no denying that Johnson was the race's dominant driver, given the massive amount of time he spent up front all evening. His car was able to work both the top and bottom groove flawlessly and while leading, Johnson was able to change lanes seamlessly to draft with and blunt the momentum of the faster lane behind him.
However, with six laps to go, there was a move that could have been his undoing had the race stayed green -- and Johnson wondered at the time if it might have been.
Johnson was the leader on the inside line while the pack was running double file behind him. As the outside line moved forward, Johnson moved to the top side to jump in its draft. But when he did that, it drew Kahne alongside him.
He and Kahne stayed side-by-side through turns one and two, and off of turn two, Johnson's car stayed high, which opened up a gap between the two for Marcos Ambrose, who was just behind Johnson on the outside line. Ambrose went for the three-wide pass for the lead, but as he did, Johnson moved back down towards Kahne. Ambrose had nowhere to go but to the left and he hit Kahne, sending Kahne shooting towards the inside backstretch wall and the caution flag into the air.
"Throughout the race I was able to move up to whatever lane was advancing and stall them out," Johnson said. "(Ambrose) had a huge run and I moved up to defend it. He didn't push me off. I certainly had some concerns there. The thought of making the wrong move did go through my mind as I went up the frontstretch."
It worked out for Johnson as he was the leader at the time of the caution, so he kept the lead. But Kahne had been up near the front with Johnson all evening, his car was one of the few strong enough to pose a challenge to Johnson's prowess.
Instead, he finished 32nd and just a week after Matt Kenseth broke the tie with Johnson and took his circuit-leading fourth win of the season, Johnson's tied again with him and his points lead is even bigger. Thanks to Carl Edwards' late race troubles, Johnson now leads Clint Bowyer by 49 points.
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