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Jimmie Johnson still enthusiased to be in Daytona 500

Jimmie Johnson still enthusiastic about being in the Daytona 500

Seven-time champion forced to race his way into Sunday's main event

Don Coble, don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 2/16/24

DAYTONA BEACH – Jimmie Johnson pounded the steering wheel moments after he finished ahead of J.J. Yeley for 12 th place after the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels Thursday night at the …

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Jimmie Johnson still enthusiased to be in Daytona 500

Jimmie Johnson still enthusiastic about being in the Daytona 500

Seven-time champion forced to race his way into Sunday's main event


Posted

DAYTONA BEACH – Jimmie Johnson pounded the steering wheel moments after he finished ahead of J.J. Yeley for 12th place after the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels Thursday night at the Daytona International Speedway.

It was a strange display of emotion, especially for a driver who already has a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame after winning 83 races and a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships.

Unlike his full-time career when he counted on point standings and a charter exemption, Johnson could only make the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500 to finish ahead of Yeley in the 150-mile qualifier.

Yeley was ahead as the two entered the fourth turn of the last lap. That’s when Johnson used every bit of guile and luck accumulated in a 21-year career.

“It was intense. With probably three to go, (Yeley) threw a great block on me on the front stretch, and it kind of perked me up,” Johnson said. “I realized just what kind of battle I was in for in the closing laps. This is not easy, and it stinks that a car has got to go home. They put up a heck of a fight, and we’re fortunate to get in.”

Yeley moved to the top lane on the final lap, so Johnson shoved the Chevrolet of Ross Chastain through the middle lane. That generated enough momentum for Johnson to make the pass. Johnson will race in the Great American Race, while Yeley, who faded to 15th, will be at home watching on television.

So much has changed for Johnson in the past two years. In addition to driving in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, he bought into Legacy Motor Club and had a brief and unsuccessful stint in IndyCars. Each of his Cup Series starts was aboard a Chevrolet, but he led a team decision to switch to Toyota.

“Just a really competitive car,” he said. “This Carvana Toyota Camry was very, very capable in the draft. It was pretty easy to get up to the front and kind of maintain. And, while I was enjoying my position on track, I just knew it was too early. I knew stuff was coming, and I knew something would happen. A few things happened after the pit stop that were quite exciting. Thankfully, we were in the right spot at the right time.”

Johnson will start on the 23rd on Sunday, weather permitting. According to weather.com, there is a 98% chance of showers when the race is supposed to take the green flag at 2:30 p.m.

Joey Logano and Michael McDowell will start on the front row after posting the top-two fastest speeds in Wednesday’s qualifying session.

Tyler Reddick will start third after winning the first Duel on Thursday, while Christopher Bell won the second Duel to clinch fourth place on the grid.

The rest of the top 10 starters include Chase Elliott in fifth, Austin Cindric in sixth, Alex Bowman in seventh, three-time 500 winner Denny Hamlin in eighth, rookie Carson Hocevar in ninth and John Hunter Nemechek in 10th.

Johnson said he misses competing but is happy to be away from a busy schedule that can keep a driver on the road for as many as 40 weeks a year.

“The grind of it certainly wears on me,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t extend to run IndyCar and sports car last year. I had an opportunity to do so, but with the commitment it takes to run a full-time season in any championship, I just knew that I didn’t have the amount in me to run 17 IndyCar races and a handful of sports car races.

“But the desire to drive and to race and compete and to have the nerves in my stomach, or butterflies, the focus that racing requires, I truly long for it. I think we all know there are certain aspects of it that you wish weren’t there, but to truly do the job. I love it. I’ve chased it my whole life. In the context of a musician or something, it’s like asking a guitarist to put down their guitar at 48 or 45. In stick and ball pro sports, the late 30s is when most of them have to hang up the cleats. When you spend your lifetime doing your passion for a job, and then you have to put it away, it just doesn’t seem realistic to me. That’s the thing I keep chasing.”