DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —
Several drivers said the accident and concern for the fans stuck with them overnight and into Sunday morning, and Johnson was quick to send his thoughts from Victory Lane.
“I just want to give a big shout-out to all the fans, and I also want to send my thoughts and prayers out to everybody that was injured in the grandstands,” Johnson said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father was killed in this race 12 years ago, was involved in Saturday’s accident but refocused and finished second to Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
“Me personally, I was just really waiting to get the news on how everybody was, how all the fans were overnight, just hoping that things were going to improve,” Earnhardt said, adding that he “wasn’t really ready to proceed until you had some confirmation that things were looking more positive.”
The race itself, the debut for NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car, was quite similar to all the other Cup races during Speedweeks in that the cars seemed to line up in a single-file parade along the top groove of the track. It made the 55th running of the Daytona 500 relatively uneventful.
When the race was on the line, Johnson took off.
The driver known as “Five-Time” raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizable lead that nobody challenged over the final six laps.
Johnson and Keselowski went down to the wire last season in their race for the Sprint Cup title, with Johnson faltering in the final two races as Keselowski won his first Cup championship.
Although it was a bit of an upset that stuck with Johnson into the offseason, it gave him no extra motivation when he found himself racing with Keselowski late Sunday for the Daytona 500.