John­son trig­gers wreck, then wins Clash at Day­tona

Woonsocket Call - - SPORTS -

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jim­mie John­son’s youngest daugh­ter prays ev­ery night for Daddy to win a race. When John­son scuf­fled through the worst sea­son of his ca­reer, he felt the strain of not reach­ing vic­tory lane.

“It was putting some pres­sure on me,” John­son said.

John­son called the in­vo­ca­tion “cute to hear.”

He didn’t feel the same about crit­i­cal com­ments say­ing John­son was past his prime. The 43-year-old John­son tweeted “I’m far from done” in the off­sea­son, and with a risky move in the rain, he showed there’s plenty left.

John­son trig­gered a wreck that wiped out nearly the en­tire 20-car field at Day­tona and zipped to the lead to win the rain-short­ened ex­hi­bi­tion Clash on Sun­day.

The seven-time Cup Se­ries cham­pion failed to win a race for the first time in his ca­reer in 2018, but a dose of ag­gres­sion put him back in vic­tory lane dur­ing the open­ing week­end of Speed­weeks. John­son’s win capped a ban­ner day for Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports: team­mates Wil­liam By­ron and Alex Bow­man locked in the front row for the Day­tona 500 ear­lier in the day in qual­i­fy­ing.

“It’s been a pretty awe­some day,” Hen­drick said. “I hate we had the wreck there at the end, but it’s been a re­ally good day for the team.”

The cel­e­bra­tion at Day­tona comes with a caveat: the last Day­tona 500 pole-sit­ter to win the race was Dale Jar­rett in 2000, and John­son’s vic­tory doesn’t count in the of­fi­cial NASCAR record book.

Paul Me­nard led 51 laps and con­trolled the race in­ter­rupted three times for rain. With more rain loom­ing, John­son dipped low and tried to side-draft Me­nard as they bat­tled for the lead. But John­son turned Me­nard and started a chain-re­ac­tion ac­ci­dent that left cars side­ways and smok­ing be­hind the No. 48 Chevro­let.

“I looked in the mir­ror and there were a lot of cars caught up in it,” John­son said.

The rain that ended the race hit not long af­ter the de­ci­sive move and John­son won for the first time with new crew chief Kevin Meen­der­ing and new pri­mary spon­sor Ally.

“I in­her­ited a great core group of guys with the 48 team,” Meen­der­ing said. “There’s a strong foun­da­tion there, and the team re­ally works well to­gether, and it gels to­gether It’s made that tran­si­tion a lot eas­ier.”

John­son and long­time crew chief Chad Knaus split at the end of last sea­son af­ter seven cham­pi­onships. Knaus beat John­son in the race to the first race day bash — by just a few hours. But the race to vic­tory lane in a race that re­ally counts comes in the reg­u­lar sea­son, and John­son hasn’t won a Cup race since June 4, 2017 at Dover.

“We still need a points race win to say we’re back in vic­tory lane,” John­son said.

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