Coming off a 2018 season which saw him go winless for the first time in his 18 years as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup series, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was thrilled to accept the victory in Sunday’s exhibition Clash at Daytona International Speedway.
No matter that the race ended with a big wreck — in which he played a starring role — or that heavy rain during the ensuing cleanup shortened the scheduled 75-lap event to 59 laps.
“Feels good” to be back in Victory Lane for the first time since 2017, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “Extremely excited to win. It’s not a points race but it’s a good start.”
Kurt Busch, driving his first race for Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second while defending series champion Joey Logano of Team Penske was third.
Paul Menard started the race from the pole in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford and led 51 of the first 55 laps. His Sunday drive was ruined when the big wreck occurred with 20 laps to go.
The wreck occurred when Menard, leading the race in the outside line, inched down the track in an attempt to keep Johnson from passing for the lead. The two cars touched doors and Menard, who was looking for his first Cup victory since he won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011, spun up into the wall.
“When Jimmie pulled out, I moved down a little bit and the next thing I know I’m getting turned in the left rear,” Menard said. “Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks. Just unfortunate. Led a lot of laps. Tore up a good car for no good reason.”
“I think he came down a little bit to defend and block,” Johnson said.
All but three of the 20 cars on the track at the time of the wreck suffered damage.
The race was stopped by red flags twice as light rain moved in and out of the area.
The 20-car field was comprised of drivers who won a Cup pole in 2018, former Clash winners who competed full-time in 2018, former Daytona 500 winners who competed full-time in 2018, former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in 2018, and drivers who qualified for last year’s Cup playoffs.
—Field Level Media