DAYTONA BEACH -- Jimmie Johnson stayed clear of the crashes Saturday night and as the race leader for the majority of the laps -- those mishaps stayed in his rear mirror. He didn't look back and took the checkered flag to win the Coke Zero 400 as a bunch of cars got caught up in a wreck near the finish line.
Johnson won the Daytona 500 back in February, completing the sweep of the two races here at the world center of racing.
Johnson is the first driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in the same season. Other drivers to have accomplished the sweep were Fireball Roberts in 1962, Cale Yarborough in 1968 and LeeRoy Yarbrough in 1969.
"To do anything Bobby has done is pretty special," Johnson said after the race under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.
Driving the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson put on a dominating performance, leading 94 of the 160 laps. He also mastered the late-race restarts and pulled away in the green-white-checkered finish to win his first Coke Zero 400 by a margin of .107 seconds.
"It's tough to (dominate) at a plate track, especially with how tight the rules are," Johnson said. "I think I showed strength early and a lot of guys were willing to work with me and kind of help me through situations, which was great. I don't know if I really made a bad move tonight, so I'm pretty proud of that."
Tony Stewart, the four-time defending champion of the Coke Zero 400, finished second while Kevin Harvick was third. Rounding out the top five were Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip.
Johnson, the five-time champion, led the field to the restart on Lap 133 and stayed in the top spot until a wild six-car crash near the entry to the tri-oval on Lap 149 stacked two-thirds of the field and wrecked the cars of Denny Hamlin (who slammed nose-first into the frontstretch wall), Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger, Dave Blaney and David Reutimann.
The accident stopped the race for eight minutes, 53 seconds, while track workers picked up the debris. Johnson led the field to another restart on Lap 154 and two laps later, Ambrose, running third, pinballed off Johnson's No. 48 car and knocked the No. 5 Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne into the inside backstretch wall to cause the race's sixth caution.
That set up the green-white-checkered finish that took the race one lap past its scheduled distance of 160 laps.
Harvick, who thought he was in excellent position for the final restart, was clearly disappointed with his third-place run.
"Yeah, we didn't win," said Harvick, who restarted from the inside lane, beside Johnson and with Bowyer behind him, for the two-lap dash to the finish. "That was our expectation coming here, and that's the expectation going to the superspeedway tracks … I'm kind of disappointed just for the fact that I felt like we were in the right position.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
Johnson had the dominant car, but attrition also helped him, starting with a collision that hobbled four strong cars on Lap 98. The No. 56 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. got loose off Turn 4 and turned sideways, triggering a wreck that collected the cars of Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch. The crash ended the winning chances of all but Busch, whose team effected quick repairs to the nose of the No. 18 Camry on pit road.
Busch rallied to finish 12th despite being a victim of the last-lap crash, but Truex, who cracked the top 10 in points after winning at Sonoma to break a 218-race drought, fell out of the race in 41st place and dropped back out of the top 10.
So did Joey Logano, who blew a tire in Turn 2 on Lap 70 and slammed into the outside wall. A week after working his way into the 10th spot in the standings, Logano was out again after being credited with a 40th-place result.
Prior to the Coke Zero 400, for the fifth straight year, Daytona International Speedway honored four Medal of Honor recipients.
In addition, race fans were treated to a pre-race concert by nine-time GRAMMY winner Sheryl Crow and a starting command by Grand Marshals - and Grown Ups 2 stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Shaquille O'Neal.
YouTube video / With 11 laps to go in the Coke Zero 400, Casey Kahne crashes into the wall at Daytona International Speedway.