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Johnson completes Sprint Cup sweep at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH — Jimmie Johnson added another milestone to his historic career Saturday night under the lights of Daytona International Speedway, accomplishing something that hadn't been done in more than three decades with a dominance rarely seen at restrictor-plate tracks.

The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion survived a late red flag, two restarts and four wrecks in the final 12 laps to win a wild Coke Zero 400 ahead of Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

Johnson became the fifth driver, and the first since Bobby Allison in 1982, to sweep the Daytona 500 and the track's July race in the same season. But Johnson is the first to do so in the era of field-equalizing restrictor plates — and he accomplished the feat while leading 94 of the race's 161 laps.

"I don't know if I really made a bad move tonight," Johnson said after fireworks splashed the night sky. "I'm pretty proud of that."

Especially considering what he endured to get to his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to Victory Lane for the fourth time this season.

With 10 laps left, Denny Hamlin got loose, slammed into the Turn 4 wall and briefly went airborne. The chain reaction collected six other cars, including previous Daytona winners Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, along with AJ Allmendinger and Zephyr­hills' David Reutimann, and NASCAR threw the red flag for an eight-minute delay.

Johnson blew into the lead with seven laps left, but Marcos Ambrose slammed into Kasey Kahne as they battled for second with six laps remaining. The impact sent Kahne across the infield, brought out the race's sixth caution and gave Johnson a chance to improve on the restarts that cost him last week's race at Kentucky.

"Every restart he was able to get to the front," said second-place Stewart, who moved into 10th in points. "They obviously had a fast car."

On the green-white-checkered restart, Johnson charged ahead of Harvick and Stewart. Two more wrecks transpired behind them on the final lap — one knocked out Carl Edwards and others in Turn 2, and the other collected Danica Patrick just before the checkered flag.

"It's Daytona," said Clint Bowyer, who finished fourth. "You knew it was going to happen."

Johnson stayed out in front of both wrecks, leading to a result that was as predictable as the "big one" at Daytona.

He earned the 64th checkered flag of his Cup career with his third victory at the 2½-mile tri-oval, and his first in the July race. He destroyed the parity usually seen at plate tracks by leading more than half the laps to open a 49-point lead over Bowyer in the standings.

Johnson called it the most dominant performance he has had at a superspeedway.

"It was evident right out of the box that the Lowe's SS was fast," crew chief Chad Knaus said.

And it's evident, midway through 2013, that Johnson is once again poised to race into NASCAR history.

Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Johnson completes Sprint Cup sweep at Daytona 07/06/13 [Last modified: Sunday, July 7, 2013 12:45am]
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