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Johnson tops Daytona 500 practice in return to NASCAR

Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson - Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Seven-time is officially back.

Jimmie Johnson, making his return to stock car racing after a two-year dalliance in IndyCar, topped the first practice session for the Daytona 500 on Friday.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner and seven-time Cup Series champion reached a top speed of 194.25 mph around the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway. He edged fellow Chevrolet drivers Chase Elliott — his former teammate at Hendrick Motorsports — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and pole-sitter Alex Bowman, the driver who replaced Johnson when he left NASCAR after the 2020 season, to create a feel-good moment for the bowtie.

It was Johnson's first extended stint behind the wheel in the Next Gen car at Daytona International Speedway. He did take part in a one-day practice session at Phoenix last month.

“I honestly think it's too early to read far into this. It is plate racing, and that was just a practice session,” Johnson said. “We didn't make any mistakes and did some things right to end up where we did. ...

"Anything can still happen. But I'm glad to be in here, I'm glad we're at the top of the board and not the bottom. I'm sure the headlines would read a little differently if we were on the other end of it.”

Johnson returned to NASCAR in November as part-owner of what is now called Legacy Motor Club, an organization that began as Petty Enterprises nearly 75 years ago. He has so far as a driver entered the Daytona 500 — Johnson will start 39th on Sunday — the street course race in Chicago in July and the 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of NASCAR's Garage 56 project.

How'd the new car feel?

“It drives like a stock car,” he quipped. “It doesn't drive like an IndyCar, thank God. We know how that went.”

Johnson drove the No. 48 for his entire career but will be behind the wheel of the No. 84 when he competes in NASCAR this year.

Aric Almirola and Joey Logano, both winners in Thursday night's qualifying races, led a train of Ford drivers behind the Chevy leaders. Almirola and Logano were fifth and sixth and followed by Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Kevin Harvick, Zane Smith, Chris Buescher and Harrison Burton.

Martin Truex Jr. was the fastest Toyota driver in 17th.

The fast lap capped a big day for Johnson, who earlier flew with the Air Force Thunderbirds before turning 34 laps in the one-hour practice session. He blacked out in the jet but didn't get sick.

“Never felt anything like that, the adrenalize, the acceleration,” he said.

Thirty-seven of 40 drivers turned at least one lap in Friday night practice. Kaulig Racing teammates AJ Allmendinger and Justin Haley sat out along with Riley Herbst of Rick Ware Racing.

There's one practice remaining for the 65th running of “The Great American Race," and several drivers are expected to skip the final session because they don't want to risk any damage before the season opener.


Toyota drivers Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick suffered from carbon monoxide exposure earlier this month at the exhibition Clash, the head of the manufacturer’s racing program said.

Hamlin complained of illness, and Reddick said he passed out on the plane ride home following the race held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“The subsidization is it was a multifaceted issue,” TRD President David Wilson said. “One probably being the mufflers that we ran, and the other racing in a bowl and a lot of time at low speed contributing to that. I’m not aware if other drivers suffered to the same extent, but we don’t have any cause to believe that it is a Toyota-specific issue.”


NASCAR driver Erik Jones notched a victory at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, only this one came on the water instead of on the track.

Jones and his team won the Hot Rods & Reels Charity Fishing Tournament, which benefits the Darrell Gwynn Chapter of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. The annual tournament takes place at Lake Lloyd inside the speedway.

Jones’ team hooked a three-fish total of 6.86 pounds, enough to edge David Blaney’s team (6.52 pounds) and Hall of Famer Donnie Allison’s team (5.08 pounds).

Bobby Allison, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex, Jr. were among the drivers and racing legends who took part in the event.

Darrell Gwynn and his charity donated a $25,000 custom wheelchair to injured dirt-track racer Grady Chandler, whose spinal cord was significantly damaged in a 2019 crash in Oklahoma.


“It is not going to happen overnight, and certainly there are days that we will miss Kyle and there are days that we won’t.” – Wilson on Toyota’s potential for success after losing Kyle Busch to rival Chevrolet.


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