DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Jimmie Johnson added to his place in NASCAR’s list of greats by winning his second Daytona 500 on Sunday while Danica Patrick placed eighth, the best-ever finish for a woman in the ‘Great American Race’.
Five-times Sprint Cup champion Johnson led through the last 10 laps to finish ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr and the 54-year-old Mark Martin.
Patrick, who was the first woman to start on pole in the 500, went into the final lap in third place but fell back five places during the final push to the finish line.
Johnson, driving the number 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, first won the race in 2006 but had not finished above 27th in the last six editions of stock car racing’s premier event.
“I had a lot of confidence in those final two laps leading the train because I knew just how fast this car was,” said Johnson.
The race came a day after a crash in the second tier Nationwide race at the Daytona International Speedway left 28 fans needing treatment after debris flew into the crowd.
As usual there were some wrecks in the always incident filled race with an early collision on lap 33 with nine cars involved, several spinning off the track including one of the favorites Tony Stewart and 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick.
Patrick conceded her inexperience may have cost her at the decisive stage of the race but that her performance was more significant than winning the pole.
“I think it was better to have run up in the top 10 all day...being able to stay up and lead at one point for me that was more of an accomplishment”, she said.
But Johnson proved too quick for Patrick and the pack.
“Once Jimmie got into the outside line he showed that he was fast. It was a steady day for me. Nothing super-duper eventful,” she said.
The 30-year-old former Indy Car driver led briefly after the 90th lap, becoming the first woman drive to lead the Daytona 500. She had lost her pole position to Jeff Gordon on the first lap.
Earnhardt Jr, whose father died at in the race 12 years ago, finished second in the Daytona 500 for the third time in four years.
Editing by Gene Cherry