Jimmie Johnson triggered a wreck that wiped out nearly the entire field at Daytona and zipped to the lead to win the rain-shortened exhibition Clash on Sunday.
The seven-time Cup Series champion failed to win a race last season for the first time in his career but a dose of aggression put him back in victory lane in the first weekend of Speedweeks. Johnson’s win continued a banner day for Hendrick Motorsports. Teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman locked in the front row for the Daytona 500 earlier in the day in qualifying.
Paul Menard led 51 laps and controlled the race interrupted multiple times for rain. With more rain looming, Johnson dipped low and tried to side-draft Menard as they battled for the lead. But Johnson turned Menard and started a chain-reaction accident that left cars sideways and smoking behind the No. 48 Chevrolet.
“Knowing the rain’s coming. I could see it coming,” Johnson said. “We could see it coming and I knew that was probably my lap to make the move and I had a great run down the back. I got below him before he blocked him. I think he came down a little bit to defend and block. I got that move inside of him and was hopeful the 1 was going to be following me through. Certainly hate to see all these cars tore up.”
The rain that ended the race hit not long after the decisive move and Johnson won for the first time with new crew chief Kevin Meendering and new primary sponsor Ally.
Johnson had turned a few extra laps at Daytona — with the 48 in the garage. He finished first in his 40 to 44 age division early Sunday in the Daytona Beach half marathon with a time of 1 hour, 34 minutes, 18.4 seconds.