Speedweeks didn’t get off to a great start for one Jimmie Kenneth Johnson.
After drawing the pole position for the Sprint Unlimited, the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet hoped to start his quest for a third Daytona 500 victory with a strong performance in the 75-lap exhibition race. Those hopes were quickly dashed on lap 44.
Hurdling down the backstretch, he made contact with Casey Mears and was sent spinning through the grass. As he got his car pointed in the right direction, the front nose dug into the ground and tore away from the car. All that was left was the radiator.
He would finish the race in 22nd, 36 laps down.
‘I could see the hole closing up,” Johnson said. “I was trying to get out of it and I avoided from crashing the two guys that closed the door on me, but I got hit from behind and that’s what sent me down through the infield. I was just trying hard on one of those nights. I was certainly trying to see what I could get with and what I couldn’t by being aggressive, and we’re down. I was trying to back out of it. I don’t think the two guys I was trying to be in the middle of, knew that I was there and I could see the door closing. I was trying to back out of it. I did a decent job getting out of there and not spinning the No. 1 (McMurray) and the No. 13 (Mears) and I got hit from behind and that sent me down to the infield. It’s unfortunate because the hole was there and I had a good run coming up through the center but they just started closing the door on me.”
“Gotta give you props right there Jimmie,” Chad Knaus said. “You’re a hell of a driver. Good dress rehearsal tonight, we learned a lot.”
Johnson was not the only member of the Hendrick brigade to have trouble. Pre-race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. was caught up in the lap 23 wreck in Turn 1. After cutting a tire, Brian Vicker’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet t-boned the right side of Earnhardt’s car and ripped it off. He was held on pit road for a number of laps until his crew used tape to create a makeshift car number on the right side. Going into Turn 3, Jamie McMurray was shoving Kasey Kahne down the backstretch. Kahne got loose and turned into the side of AJ Allmendinger. His night finally came to an end with 10 laps to go after his engine expired in Turn 2.
Despite wrecking out, Johnson took to Twitter to say he was “good with tonight” and glad that he could “get the bad luck outta the way. Sorry about your cars @RickHendrick.”
He qualified sixth for the Daytona 500 and will start third in the second Duel race on Thursday.