Jimmie Johnson Takes Camaro ZL1 to Victory in Daytona Clash

In a field of 20 race cars at Daytona International Speedway, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson powered his No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 to a rain-shortened victory in the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Hampered by two red flags due to weather, Johnson was in the lead when NASCAR called the 75-lap event at lap 59. It was Johnson’s second Clash win and first with his new crew chief, Kevin Meendering. 
“It feels good,” said Johnson. “I’m just really happy about honestly, a great day for Hendrick Motorsports, for Chevrolet, for Ally coming on board and qualifying third for the Daytona 500 and then to win the Clash. Kevin Meendering, leading this team; there have been a lot of things going on. I’m extremely excited to win. It’s not a points race, but it’s a good start.” 
Johnson’s victory gives Chevrolet it’s 21st win in 41 Clash races, more than any other manufacturer. Seven Team Chevy drivers started today’s event with three of them ending the day in the top five.
Kurt Busch, No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro ZL1 earned a runner-up finish, while Alex Bowman piloted his No. 88 Nationwide Camaro ZL1 to take the checkered flag in fifth.
Defending Daytona 500 winner, Austin Dillon, No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Camaro ZL1 finished sixth followed by Chase Elliott in seventh and Jamie McMurray, No. 40 AdventHealth Camaro ZL1 in 11th.
Kyle Larson, No. 42 Credit One Bank Camaro ZL1 was involved in a multi-car incident on lap 55 relegating him to a 19th place finish.
Next up for the NASCAR Cup Series teams is Thursday’s Gander RV Duel races.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet.
Q. Jimmie, a couple ‑‑ does this count as the first win, and did you have to kind of show up William after he got the pole?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, points races are different, but we’ll take this. You know, we still need a points race win to say we’ve been back to Victory Lane. It’s a great first step today to get first reps with Kevin, a lot of new members on the team, to bring Ally into the sport with a victory and qualifying third. Just a really big day for the 48 team, and just building the confidence that we’re going to need to carry into the season.
And then when you look at what happened for Hendrick Motorsports today and also Chevrolet, just an epic day across the board.
Q. If you could talk a little bit about how important it was maybe to come right out of the box for not only the new sponsor but also for you looking to get back in the win column?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, there’s different pressures put on each team, and certainly outside pressures of ‑‑ somebody came up with a great idea of who’s going to win first, Jimmie or Chad, and then the pressure, can we win again. There’s just different things that any and every team and driver deal with, so to work through that today and to win today just kind of, I think, helps with some of that outside pressure on where the team is.
And then internally, we’ve only talked about winning races. Kevin and I, this team have mentioned it many times, many different ways, I’m far from done. So, for us today, there was no other thought process than to try to go out and win the pole and win the race, and we came close to doing both.
Just a great day. Builds confidence for myself and the team, and hopefully we can get it done again next weekend. Great way to start. Thank you.
Q. I’ll ask the tough question. Winning the way, it played out with the contact, walk us through the incident, and does it take away from the celebration a little bit knowing that that’s not the way you traditionally want to win a race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I guess I need to look at it some more. I was inside of him for a little while before things went haywire, so I don’t know what caused his car to get out of control. I didn’t hit his rear bumper cover. I made a move and got to the inside and was side drafting him, and his car started wobbling. So, I don’t know what caused it. It’s the last way I want to win a race. I’ve lost plenty this way. Restrictor plates usually do end this way. So, I don’t know ‑‑ it’s plate racing. I’m here to win races, and I hate there are a bunch of tore‑up cars, but I didn’t drive through a car and create a wreck.
Again, I’ll look at it some more on tape, but from where I was sitting, it was just a racing incident.
Q. Just following up on that, Kurt was in here, felt like you were ‑‑ he called it the no‑zone, hung on the left rear quarter panel of the 21 too long and also passed below the yellow line. Your comments to that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: So, he wants the trophy. I’d politic if I was him, too. Why not?
Q. I guess it’s just a matter of you just have to take the mindset of that’s just this type of racing, that there can’t be any remorse in a situation? Not that that means that there’s blame anywhere, but just how the situation ‑‑ how the mindset works when you go through something like this.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, when you drive into somebody and spin them out, you know what you did, and I pulled up alongside of another car and a wreck started. I mean, I’ll take whatever blame is fairly supposed to be put on me, but let’s remember that rain is coming, it’s literally the white flag, and how many plate races have we seen where there’s aggressive driving to try to win the race. That’s simply all I was doing.
I didn’t try to crash Paul. I didn’t drive through Paul. It was a racing incident. I’m very remorseful. I’m probably more remorseful than any driver in the field when stuff like this happens. I don’t crash people to win races. I looked in the mirror and there were a lot of cars caught up in it, and I hate that aspect of it. So absolutely I’m remorseful.
But at the same time, I have a split‑second decision to try to win a race, and I set up the pass and got position on him clean. I don’t know what triggered his car wobbling and then the accident started from there.
Q. At Talladega the Fords were really able to hook up and no one had anything, at least for those Stewart‑Haas ones. Are things just more even now? Is it the track? Is it maybe the way they’re looking at skew? Or do you feel like they’re still extremely stout?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel like the rules have changed quite a bit. The SHR Fords found something really good that worked for all four of their cars. I would guess that it’s in the skew department just because that’s one of the bigger changes that’s happened to the plate cars. But I don’t know for sure.
Q. Is there anything that you saw today running closer to the front of the field to indicate that the 500 will play out similarly, even though there’s more cars and maybe warmer conditions, in regards to how hard it was to pass?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, there were a lot of opportunities to pass, but when the line is around the top, you get runs and you just ‑‑ you can’t pull out. There’s a line 20 cars long that you’ll never get back in, and that was just today. In the 500 it’ll be 40 cars long. It’s circumstantial to what’s going on, and this rules package has kind of trended towards the middle of the race track or the high lane, just the cars stay wound up and you’re at higher RPM and the engines pull better. The bottom lane it’s easy to really stop that car with a side draft and get their RPM too low to where the engine doesn’t pull.
So, we’re all kind of fighting for the outside in general. Restarts, the outside lane seems to be the lane you want to be in, and that just kind of takes you forward.
And then when it gets to single file on the top, I mean, you’re just waiting. That’s all we did at ‑‑ every time we got 5 or 10 laps in, it went single file at the top, and everybody is just waiting for that chance that it’s safe to make a pass or you think that you’re coming to the checkered or something like that.
Q. How did the race go this morning?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The foot race? It went good. The headwind down to the beach was a bit more than desired, but outside of that, it was a good day.
Q. What did you finish?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t see the official result, but Chip said in the driver’s meeting I ended up 10th. But I don’t have official ‑‑ 14th. 14th overall.
Q. So today how much better do you feel than you did a year ago heading into the week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Into the week, I feel good. It’s tough to say what you have in Daytona for these two weeks really carry into the season and Atlanta, Phoenix, California, all that stuff. So, for this week and the success that we had today in qualifying and today on track, absolutely, it was a great sign for the week ahead.
Q. I was going to say that the race results show that you were first in your age group, so I wondered if you had heard what happened to McMurray’s results because they’re not showing at all.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Did he go below the yellow line?
Q. Maybe he did. He finished four minutes ahead of you, but you’re the winner in the group.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Are we in the same age bracket? Think so? I don’t know, he was definitely ahead of me. I don’t know how that works out.
Q. Not about the race, but the relationship between you and Chad now because it’s gone from a driver‑crew chief combination to a driver and ‑‑ Jimmie and Chad. Is there a different kind of relationship? How is that relationship now, or is there one?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, there is a different relationship kind of growing, and it’s more on the kind of friendship side and personal side that has always been there between myself and Chad, but work has occupied the majority of our time with one another. We were just at his house I guess last weekend visiting his wife and his son, and hanging out with our two girls and just kind of getting together and hanging out with him. You know, it’s a transition for both of us, and we’re both working through it on the professional side, but the personal side, we’ve been great friends for a long time. Both of us want to make sure that our friendship is one that lasts a lifetime and that we’re here for each other outside of ‑‑ inside the racing bubble, but certainly outside with family and all the other stuff that goes with it.
Q. You said you weren’t remorseful, so now what happens when you go back to your phone? Are you going to have to do like outreach to your peers and send a group text and say, my bad, or what happens now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely reach out to Paul and talk him through what happened and take it from there. I think a phone call goes much further than a text. It would be even better face to face, but I’m assuming he’s gone. But certainly, talk through it. I don’t know if he or anybody else involved in the crash will care what I have to say. I mean, I’ve been in that position where I just didn’t care. But I will definitely do my best to explain what I was thinking and what was going on and expect to hear his point of view, as well.
Q. You had talked in Vegas on the playoff media day before the playoffs last year about how your daughter Lydia had been so enthusiastic in trying to support you and push you to get those wins and kind of made you laugh about how she reacted. How had she been going into the week, and have you had a chance through the victory to talk to her through FaceTime or is she down here to get her reaction to that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, they’re not here, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to them yet, but she literally closes in prayer every single night with, “We need Daddy to win a race,” or “Dear Lord, can Daddy win a race.” She is highly competitive. It’s so cute to hear it. And then after hearing it for a lot of months last year and into this year, it’s putting some pressure on me. Granted, it’s not a points win, but she’s going to be a happy girl when I see her.
Q. I think Paul said something along the lines of aggressive side drafting caused that big crash, and he also mentioned, I believe I got it right, “Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks.” What might he have been talking about?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we all aggressively side draft at these tracks. That’s what we do. And absolutely that’s what I did. That’s how you pass, when you break the bumper cover, the plane of the bumper cover of the car you’re going to pass or go by. So, I guess, guilty.
Q. How does it feel to start off Speedweeks on a much higher note than last year’s?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, last year was tough. I don’t think we finished any events down here. Good qualifying effort, the win, it’s a great way to start it.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the crew chief of the winning car, which is the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet. We have Kevin Meendering here.
Q. Obviously, a tremendous way to start a new relationship with you and Jimmie. Pretty much talk me through these last couple days for you guys, being at the track and working on the cars and now already having a win together.
KEVIN MEENDERING: No, it’s been great. We couldn’t ask for a better way to start the year. As far as the last couple days, we kind of got a warm‑up last week when we tested in Vegas, so that was big for our communication and helped us tremendously.
I felt like the last couple days have been really smooth. Cars drove well, communication has been well. We’ve made ‑‑ we had a great qualifying effort. Wish we could have got the pole, but nonetheless, it was a great effort by our team, and everything has been smooth.
THE MODERATOR: We are also welcoming back Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and the 48 Ally Chevrolet.
Q. What kind of day has this been for you?
RICK HENDRICK: It’s been a pretty awesome day. You know, it’s just unbelievable to have the four cars qualify like that, and then to have Jimmie win the Clash, I think in his seven times that’s the first time he’s finished in seven years, so that’s ‑‑ and it feels good. It feels good to see Kevin and Jimmie have success today, and it feels good to see William and Chad. It’s been a good day for the organization. I hate we had the wreck there at the end, but it’s been a really good day for our team.
Q. Did you guys hold your breath after that final lap, after Jimmie’s car had gone down the double yellow lines and you were like maybe looking around for a NASCAR official going, sorry, wreck? Were you looking for some kind of ruling on that?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. You know, I think ‑‑ you know what, I didn’t think about that to be honest with you. When the cars collide like that, it’s not like you’re passing somebody below the yellow. I didn’t really ‑‑ I just thought the car had damage, and so I didn’t even think about that until you just mentioned it.
Q. Question for Kevin: For a new group of guys working together, what’s this day been like for you guys? You just about got it all, just about cleaned the table.
KEVIN MEENDERING: No, it’s been great. One great thing about it is I inherited a great core group of guys with the 48 team. There’s a strong foundation there, and the team really works well together, and it gels together, and it’s made that transition a lot easier. They just ‑‑ I think everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, not just the 48 team, has worked really hard over the off‑season, and I think some of it showed today.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on a great day, and good luck next Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our second‑place finisher, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet. We will open it up to questions for Kurt.
Q. Tell us what you saw out there. Were you mirror driving it to kind of see what was happening behind you as you and Jimmie were battling at the end?
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, it was a pretty wild race with everything going on, with the race, the lineup under one of the yellows. I was watching my little brother. He just went and passed like 15 cars under yellow, and then they almost went back green. I’m like, all right, we’ve got to get all this straightened out, but it just seemed like everybody was really antsy. The draft is still pretty tough to gauge, and then with all the rain, it was start, stop, start, stop, so today was a how‑you‑can‑juggle‑it‑the‑best.
I felt like I had a good wing man with my little brother behind me, and it just didn’t quite materialize in the fashion that I hoped it would have, but everybody that’s running up front is smart and they’re trying to protect their track position, and when you don’t know when the rain is going to come for its final time, everybody is elbows out and antsy and you’re just hoping that you’re the leader when the biggest raindrops hit.
So, Johnson made a move on Menard, and he stayed in that no‑zone ‑ I call it the no‑zone ‑ in that left rear quarter-panel for way too long, and it just drug Menard around with him, and that’s some of the instability in the draft that these cars show. And that’s why we end up single file a lot is just trying to make sure we’re making our move because sometimes your final ‑‑ your move is your last move because the cars are so unstable.
Q. Kurt, a couple practice sessions, Daytona 500 qualifying, a little bit of a race today. Have you gotten first impressions of your group of guys, and how do you feel about this new team around you?
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, it’s been nice. We’ve really gone quite a bit in making big steps to go, you know what, by Thursday, we need to act like a team that’s been together for a half a year. So, each and every day there’s been tons of communication, sometimes over the top on this switch or this and that and this setup, this thousandth of an inch on the setup and things like that. I think today like I didn’t know we were pitting at lap 25 under green. I just assumed the yellow was going to come out and then we’d all take the yellow and then all of us would pit under yellow, so that was a miscue on our part. I would have charged for the lead knowing that we were going to pit under green. And so that was one of those small things that slipped through. There’s plenty to juggle out there, though.
Q. I was just kind of curious what your relationship was with your spotter Tyler Green and how you guys worked together today.
KURT BUSCH:  We’re just starting off. Today was our fourth day together on the radio. We luckily had two days at the Vegas test, a couple days at the race shop to talk about things and to review tape. But I like his enthusiasm. I like that he was a former racer. He comes from a racing family. The Green last name is a strong name in racing, and so it’s good to have him on the spotter tower.
I think he’s the youngest spotter I’ve ever had, and we’re going to have some fun together.
Q. Kurt, you talked about Jimmie getting into sort of the no‑zone and staying there too long. Did you feel like once he made that move and stayed there that the wreck was coming and you were looking for a way out?
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, it ‑‑ you never know when there’s going to be a lack of traction with the tires, but when you challenge the air and with Jimmie’s run that he had on Menard, just seemed like he stayed there for a long time to do the side draft, and that just gave it more momentum for Menard’s car to have a bigger wiggle, and then it looked like Jimmie had to go and duck below the double yellow to try to clear the cars from spinning, and yet that’s a pass for the lead, and he went below the double yellow, and here we are, we’re the next guy that didn’t have problems.
It’s like one of those judgment calls. It was close, we almost got the win today with the Monster Energy Chevy, but you’ve just got to try not to make mistakes, and I think we did okay.
Q. What is the acceptable time to stay in that no‑zone, and how difficult is that to judge at that speed and with everything happening around you?
KURT BUSCH:  There’s no real set time. With fresher tires you can hold things longer, older tires you’ve got to bail out. And I think Johnson had a legitimate run to go for the lead, and again, it’s like, you want the cars more stable. You want us to run side by side. You want us to change lanes and not have side effects, and it just shows you how trimmed out everybody has got these cars to find that speed, and when you’re looking for speed, it usually brings instability in the cars.
Q. Just got done talking to Matt outside, and he said that the communication so far was pretty good. This was just kind of a trial run race. I know it’s early days still, but just the communication process with Matt and getting to know him as a crew chief?
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, I like his leadership skills with the guys. He’s a racer himself. I think he won a late model race Thanksgiving weekend this past year. And then we had a go‑kart outing. I just gave him the pole position off the invert for the go‑kart outing just to see if he could hold it, and he beat Larson and I. Larson and I couldn’t quite catch him.
With that mentality of being a racer, being in the seat and knowing what has to happen, I’ve never really had a crew chief that was a racer, so I’m looking forward to everything we have around this No. 1 car right now.
Q. Fans would naturally have a lot of questions after a race like that, seeing mostly single‑file racing and why we don’t see those type of passes being made mid‑pack or up front. Try to make the fans understand why we don’t see those type of moves being made.
KURT BUSCH:  I wish I knew. That would be the golden ticket, to create the better racing and the stability of the cars side by side. If I had a magic wand, I would wave it. We’re all smart guys. That’s why we’re running the high groove. The cars don’t side draft as well off the left side. The right side is too vulnerable. And so, when you draft off somebody on the right, you dump a lot more air on to their rear spoiler and you take away their side force on the right side of the cars. We’ve an at oval; we’re turning left. The right side is very important. So, if we can get the cars less dependable on the side force, that’s what I would try to explain to the fans, and that’s what I thought the cars were more of when I first started racing.
Q. At Talladega we saw all the Fords were able to really hook up together and dominate. Obviously, they weren’t as good today. Is that because of just the width of the track? Is it because maybe you can’t run as much rear skew as you could in the past?
KURT BUSCH:  Each time I looked up I counted a lot of Fords, so I still think they were hooked up. For me, I have the intel of being on the inside and knowing how they operate, and so I was just like trying to blend in and act like I was a Ford for a little bit, and then we started picking them off one at a time, and then once we got just Menard by himself, that’s when I really thought the racing was going to get good, and unfortunately the wreck happened and then the rain came. It was all matching up to be a really good finale with the 25 laps to go.
Yeah, the Fords win in numbers, and that’s the key. They’re still just as strong, but there’s a lot of them.
Q. Just curious how much different your Chevrolet felt compared to what you’ve been driving with the Stewart‑Haas Fords.
KURT BUSCH:  In the short run and short‑term, everything felt very similar. I was just hoping for a longer run to see how the handling was going to come into play with 20 laps on the tires and just feel it from that point. But we never really got that long run because of the weather and the caution and other things.
I’m impressed, though. I like this group’s enthusiasm. They know that we don’t quite have the speed. Watching the four Hendrick cars qualify one, two, three, four today and the fastest Ganassi car was 21st, that shows you that we’ve got to go to work.
Q. I didn’t know with you being up at the front if you felt like the Fords could close up on the back of the car a little bit more than the other makes, if you experienced that, or if that just depends on what situation you were in? Did you notice the Fords could suck up a little bit more and affect your handling in the rear?
KURT BUSCH:  Apples to apples, because I came from a Ford last year at Talladega, and I felt like I had an easier time pulling up to the car in front of me last year versus today’s race.
Q. You mentioned the double yellow line. Did you see Jimmie go under the line, and did you notify your team about that?
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, I didn’t quite see him until I saw the first replay after the race, and it clearly shows he’s below the double yellow. Can the rule be interpreted he went to go pass below the double yellow? Yes. Can it be interpreted that Menard forced him below the double yellow? Yes. Right now Ganassi is over there at the hauler just checking in, just seeing what the call can be, and again, it’s ‑‑ like any sport right now, we see it in the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, it’s all an umpire or referee call, and they can decide which way it needs to go, but hey, we almost won our first race together, and we’ll take second. Either way.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, thanks for joining us, and good luck next week.
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