Duel One To Johnson; Papis, McDowell Race In
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Just how strong is Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team?
His backup was better than other’s primary cars as Johnson’s spare Chevrolet claimed the victory in Thursday’s first Gatorade Duel at Daytona qualifying race for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
In a race filled with six former Daytona 500 winners, Johnson beat Kevin Harvick to the checkered flag by .006 second.
“I didn’t want to beat this thing up any more, but it shows that we don’t build bad race cars,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t easy to drive the car that loose, but this slow Chevrolet did it.”
Michael McDowell finished 14th and Max Papis 15th to claim the two transfer positions into NASCAR’s biggest race on Sunday, with the majority of the Daytona 500 field set by the top 35 cars in owner’s points.
“I’m so happy for me and for the team. I’m speechless,” Papis said, as he hugged his wife, Tatiana, the daughter of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. “I’m speechless because those guys out there are the best of the best in the world. When Mark Martin comes up and says he is really happy that I made the show means a lot to me.
“When you drive underneath that tunnel at Daytona its Game Day. You have to be on it. Every lap I drive, I do it as if it is the last time I’ll ever drive a Cup car. It’s the reason why I should be here. It’s an everyday audition.”
McDowell drove for Michael Waltrip Racing two years ago, but drives for Prism Racing this season.
“We got the pushes that we needed,” McDowell, a former Grand Am regular said. “It’s unbelievable that a couple of guys from sports-car racing were able to go out there in what Max said is the best of the best.”
Johnson was in the lead on the white flag lap and had a sizeable advantage entering the first turn. Harvick pulled alongside Johnson and got a push from his Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer, but Johnson stayed in the gas on the inside line.
Harvick’s Chevrolet finished second to give that car manufacturer a 1-2 sweep. Kyle Busch’s Toyota was third, followed by Clint Bowyer’s Chevrolet and Regan Smith’s Chevrolet.
Several cars had to drop to the rear of the field after they were involved in crashes during Wednesday’s practice and had to get into a backup car. Ryan Newman led the first lap but Daytona 500 pole winner Mark Martin was able to move back into the lead on the second lap.
Papis was involved in a “moment” on the 32nd lap when he was racing with Bowyer on the frontstretch. The two cars touched and that sent Terry Cook’s car sliding across the grass.
“I was on the outside and Bowyer wanted to get right in front of me and there wasn’t enough room,” Papis said. “They went sideways and hit the wall. It was a little hairy but part of the sport.”
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip may watch from the sidelines for the first time in 24 years after crashing in the fourth turn with seven laps to go. He can still get into the race based on the outcome of Thursday’s second qualifying race.
“The tire started shaking a couple laps before and I went into three and couldn’t make the turn,” Waltrip said. “This place has been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. After winning and losing a dear friend (Dale Earnhardt who was killed when Waltrip won in 2001). This is minor. I have to put on my big boy britches and hope for the best.”