DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A big first for Danica Patrick, but an even bigger second for Jimmie Johnson.
Patrick made history up front at the Daytona 500 Sunday, only to see Johnson make a late push ahead of her and reclaim his spot at the top of his sport.
It was the second Daytona victory for Johnson, a five-time NASCAR champion who first won “The Great American Race” in 2006.
Patrick, the first woman to win the pole, also became the first woman to lead the race. She was running third on the last lap, but faded to eighth at the finish.
There were several crashes during the race, none approaching the magnitude of the wreck that injured more than two dozen fans a day earlier in a second-tier race on the same track. vJohnson raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizable lead that nobody challenged over the final six laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. settled for second as Hendrick Motorsports drivers went 1-2 in the new Chevrolet SS. Mark Martin was third in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
Keselowski, who overcame two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth in the new Ford that Penske Racing is fielding this year.
Patrick was clearly disappointed with her finish. But she admitted she wasn’t sure what move to make if she was going to try for the win.
“You know I kept thinking about it the whole time,” she said. “You spend a lot of time thinking what to do when the opportunity comes.”
Patrick became the first woman in history to lead laps in the 500 when she passed Michael Waltrip on a restart on Lap 90. She stayed on the point for two laps, then was shuffled back to third. She ended up leading five laps, another groundbreaking moment for Patrick, who in 2005 as a rookie became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500.
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to lead laps at NASCAR’s top Cup Series, in 1977 at Ontario, where she led five laps under caution.
The field was weakened by an early nine-car accident that knocked out race favorite Kevin Harvick and sentimental favorite Tony Stewart.
Harvick had won two support races coming into the 500 to cement himself as the driver to beat, but the accident sent him home with a 42nd place finish.
Stewart, meanwhile, dropped to 0-for-15 in one of the few races the three-time NASCAR champion has never won.
“If I didn’t tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I’d be lying to you,” Stewart said.
That accident also took former winner Jamie McMurray, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kasey Kahne out of contention.
The next accident—involving nine cars—came 105 laps later and brought a thankful end to Speedweeks for Carl Edwards. He was caught in his fifth accident since testing last month, and this wreck collected six other Ford drivers.
The field suddenly had six Toyota drivers at the front as Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing drivers took control of the race. But JGR’s day blew up—literally—when the team was running 1-2-3 with Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch setting the pace.
Kenseth went to pit road first with a transmission issue, and Busch was right behind him with a blown engine. Busch was already in street clothes watching as Hamlin led the field.
“It’s a little devastating when you are running 1-2-3 like that,” Busch said.