DAYTONA BEACH (Reuters) - Five-times Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returned to the peak of the sport with a Daytona 500 triumph achieved with a perfectly timed drive.
Johnson powered past Brad Keselowski after the final re-start and led for the last 10 laps with his challengers unable to match his speed.
“It was just awesome, there is no other way to describe it,” said Johnson.
“I felt like I was sitting on something all day and was just ready to have some fun when it counted - and I did,” he said.
The Californian’s first triumph at Daytona was in 2006 and his fifth Sprint Cup title came in 2010 but last year he drove just a lap before crashing out and then saw the title slip away from him on the final race of the year at Homestead.
Now Johnson, nicknamed ‘Five Time’, clearly has his eye on a sixth Sprint Cup championship after showing the speed of his Chevrolet matches his ability behind the wheel.
“It is definitely a great start for the team. When we were discussing things before the season started, we felt good about the 500 but we are really excited for everything after this,” he said.
“We are very hopeful and excited that our 48 car will be really fast in Phoenix, Vegas, moving forward. I think it is going to be a very strong year for us,” he added.
Johnson had not finished above 27th in the last six editions of stock car racing’s premier event but laughed off the notion that he was ‘back’.
“I don’t think we went anywhere. Guys in the garage area, they are wise to that. We had great pace last year, championship form and two bad races at the end,” said Johnson.
“This is a one-of-a-kind race. We’ll enjoy the rush. If there are some down points throughout this year, we will look back on this race and smile again,” he added.
Editing by Ian Ransom