Jimmie Johnson wins Daytona 500; Danica Patrick finishes 8th

Story highlights

  • Jimmie Johnson led 17 laps, says he was confident in his car
  • Danica Patrick becomes first woman to lead green-flag lap at the race
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a runner-up for the third time in four years
  • Some fans injured in Saturday incident were scheduled to attend race, official says
Racing at the Daytona International Speedway can be like playing the lottery against 42 other drivers who all have a ticket, all seem to have an equal shot at winning.
While luck can certainly help, so does experience, something Jimmie Johnson put to use as the laps wound down in NASCAR's season-opening and most prestigious race of the season.
Johnson won the Daytona 500 on Sunday, edging out Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second for the third time in four years.
Johnson, who won the race for the second time, led 17 laps on the track where speeds are limited by a restrictor plate. The result is close racing, with cars separated by hundredths of a second.
It's a race that often involves a big wreck near the end, so Sunday drivers were content to line up one by- ne and go around and a round and around for the first 180 laps. Then Johnson took over.
"I had a lot of confidence leading the train," Johnson said of being the first car in line as drivers raced around the 2 1/2-mile track. "I knew I had a fast car."
His crew chief, Chad Knaus said that despite the uncertainty of racing this season with the latest generation of NASCAR cars -- which are lighter and sleeker -- they knew for weeks what they wanted to do.
"Jimmie did a great job of following that plan," said Knaus, who sat out the team's 2006 Daytona 500 win because of a suspension.
Danica Patrick, the first woman to win the pole position at the Daytona 500, led three times, including five laps under green -- also becoming the first woman to lead a lap at the race not under a yellow flag caution. She finished eighth, the highest finish ever for a female driver at the race.