DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There’s one certainty about racing at NASCAR’s most unpredictable tracks: a chaotic ending.
Jimmie Johnson dominated the latest restrictor-plate race Saturday night, winning at Daytona International Speedway for the second time this year and joining another exclusive list at the famed venue.
The five-time Sprint Cup champion became the first driver since Hall of Famer Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep both points races at Daytona in the same season. Johnson joined them after leading 94 of 161 laps, including 55 of the final 57.
But like so many other races at Daytona and Talladega, it came with a frantic finish.
There were two multi-car wrecks on the final lap, the second one just a few feet shy of the finish line.
“Be glad you were sitting in the stands and not in the cars,” runner-up Tony Stewart said.
Scott Speed and Carl Edwards got together in turn 2, starting a six-car pileup. Instead of ending the race under caution, NASCAR decided to let the cars race to the line. With drivers maneuvering for position through the final turns, David Gilliland and Danica Patrick got tangled, turning Patrick’s car into several others. Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jeff Burton and other were involved.
“I asked my crew when the checkered fell to remind me why I do this,” driver/owner Michael Waltrip said. “What’s fun about it? ... I just know that 200 miles an hour pushing and shoving – this is fun for the fans and it’s going to be fun to watch back on TV. I wasn’t having any fun doing it.
There’s little drivers can do to avoid all the turmoil that comes with plate racing. It happens at just about every race at Daytona and Talladega, where drivers, fans and everyone watching are always waiting for “the big one.”
On Saturday night, the race was fairly clean until a six-car accident with 11 laps remaining prompted a red flag. That wreck included another vicious hit for Denny Hamlin. Hamlin’s car inexplicably turned right and spun hard into the frontstretch wall. “We knew it was coming,” Johnson said.
Several drivers, included Stewart and his teammates, have opted to move to the back of the field early, hoping to avoid early wrecks.
“You go back there to try to give yourself a little bit of a buffer,” Stewart said. “This is a 195-mile-an-hour chess match, and the lap that pays is lap 160.”
Johnson seems to have that feel as well as anyone in 2013.
The Sprint Cup points leader won his fourth race of the season and etched his name in the Daytona record books.
“That’s amazing, gosh,” Johnson said. “To tie anything that Bobby did is really special.”