Leading into Sunday, stories surrounding Jimmie Johnson concerned his potential to bounce back from a frustrating 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series campaign with new crew chief Kevin Meendering. A few hours into the day, things got off to a good start as he qualified third for the Daytona 500. By the end of the day, he was in Victory Lane after a very bizarre Advance Auto Parts Clash.
Twenty drivers comprised the exhibition race’s field, most of whom won a pole during the 2018 season. Others like Johnson and Austin Dillon qualified for the race as former Daytona 500 pole- and race winners, while 2018 playoff drivers were also eligible.
Paul Menard started on the pole after winning a random draw, and led the way for the first eight laps until the race was red-flagged for rain. About twenty minutes later, the race resumed as Menard and the Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney followed him behind.
Most of the field pitted on lap 25, with Aric Almirola and Daniel Suárez getting slapped by speeding and crewman-over-the-wall-too-soon penalties on their stops. Under caution, the remaining five drivers pitted.
The green flag waved on lap 28 with Menard and Blaney on the front row, though action only lasted for eleven laps until rain returned to Daytona International Speedway. After a ten-minute delay, the race was once again underway as Denny Hamlin took the lead.
Menard reclaimed the lead as Johnson caught up to him. On the backstretch on lap 55, Johnson attempted to pass Menard on the inside and side-draft the #21, but made contact in the process. While Johnson was able to keep stable and dive below the double-yellow line to avoid any potential wreck, Menard spun up the track, clipping Kyle Busch before collecting a wealth of cars.
By the conclusion of the wreck, all but three drivers were officially involved in the incident in some way; Blaney, Logano, and Kurt Busch were the lone exceptions. When rain once again began pouring, NASCAR elected to declare the race official. The top five consisted of Johnson, Busch, Logano, Blaney, and Alex Bowman.
“Jimmie’s a seven-time champion, I got a lot of respect for him. But when we come to these plate tracks, he causes at least one wreck every plate race,” Menard said in an interview with FS1. “He got us in July here last year. It’s unfortunate he’s doing it again.”
It is Johnson’s first Clash victory since 2005. Although Johnson crossed the double-yellow line, he received no penalty as NASCAR ruled it was done to avoid the wreck.
“I could see [the rain] coming, I knew that was my lap to make the move,” Johnson explained in his interview. “I had a great run down the back. I got below him before he blocked it, and then I think he came down a little bit to defend and block. I got that move inside of him and was hopeful the 1 (of Kurt Busch) was gonna be following me through.
“Certainly hate to see all these cars torn up. I’m here, make my move, I’m there, and then it just starts coming over. I think it was more a racing thing than anything. I feel sorry for Paul, feel sorry for all the teams that lost race cars, but I’m here to win races.”