Jimmie Johnson won the season-opening and rain-shortened Clash exhibition race at Daytona after contact with leader Paul Menard sent Menard spinning and into a massive crash.
Johnson was running second to Menard with fewer than 20 laps to go and rain approaching Daytona International Speedway. He went to pass Menard on the inside and didn’t give himself much room in an attempt to side-draft his way around Menard.
Menard might have moved down ever so slightly as Johnson went to pass and, well, this happened.
Johnson led Kurt Busch to the finish line while Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney also made it through the crash. The rest of the field wasn’t so lucky. The race was called with 16 laps to go because of rain.
The seven-time champion didn’t apologize for his move after the race and simply called it a product of restrictor plate racing. He said he had to be aggressive because rain was approaching and was likely to halt the race.
“Knowing the rain was coming — we could see it coming, I knew that was probably my lap to make the move,” Johnson said. “I had a great ride down the back. I got below him before he blocked it. And then I think he came down a little to defend and block. I got that move inside of him and was hopeful [Kurt Busch] would follow me through. Certainly hate to see all these cars torn up. I’m here and making my move. I’m there and then he just starts coming over. I think it was more of a racing thing than anything.”
Menard noted that he’s been on the bad end of contact from Johnson at restrictor plate races before.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 10, 2019
Johnson was remorseful about what happened because of his move, however.
“I didn’t try to crash Paul,” he said. “I didn’t drive through Paul. It was a racing incident. I’m very remorseful. I’m probably more remorseful than any driver in the field when stuff like this happens. I don’t crash people to win races. I looked in the mirror and there were a lot of cars caught up in it, and I hate that aspect of it. So absolutely I’m remorseful.”
Johnson was winless in 2018. It was the first winless season of his illustrious career. While the Clash doesn’t officially count as a win in 2019 — it doesn’t have any points at stake — Johnson’s winless drought dating back to June of 2017 undoubtedly played a role in his aggressiveness.
[William Byron wins pole for Daytona 500]
Rain plagued the race
While the Clash ended with a crash, the rest of the race wasn’t so thrilling. The rain’s premature halt to the race was the third time the scheduled 75-lap race was stopped because of water falling from the sky.
When cars were racing, the inside line didn’t have much for the outside line. Johnson made the type of move he did on Menard because no one on the inside was able to form a line of cars to challenge the leader. As Menard dominated the race, the cars behind him jockeyed for position on the outside lane. Attempts to make moves on the inside were futile.
If you’re a fan of constant two-wide racing at Daytona, the Clash was not a positive sign for what you could expect in the Feb. 17 Daytona 500. Cool and cloudy conditions (when it wasn’t raining) are supposed to be conducive for more aggressive racing. If the Daytona 500 happens under warm and sunny skies, drivers will be searching for grip. And likely unable to drive side-by-side for long periods of time.
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Bumgarner ‘walking right out’ if Giants use an opener
• Zion draws comparisons to LeBron in win at Virginia
• Anderson Silva impresses in loss to unbeaten wunderkind
• Forde: 5 takeaways from NCAA tourney seeding reveal