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Sunday’s Daytona 500 marks the 400th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start for Jimmie Johnson.
Perhaps that milestone celebration will change his luck – and that of Hendrick Motorsports.
Since winning back-to-back Daytona 500s in 2005-06, HMS has seen its fortunes sag in “The Great American Race.”
Johnson hasn’t finished higher than 27th since his 2006 victory. His average finish, post-”500″ victory, is 33.5. A year ago, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion hit rock-bottom: 40th after a second-lap accident.
It’s early but so far the calendar’s turn hasn’t seemed to help. Both Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, were collected in a first-segment crash in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited.
Johnson, however, remains optimistic, especially with the performance of the No. 48 Gen-6 Chevrolet SS.
“I was encouraged by the speed of my car and the way the cars raced on the track,” he said of his brief drive in the Sprint Unlimited.
“I’m looking forward to the Daytona 500.” Johnson has reached his milestone with the same sponsor throughout – Lowe’s. In NASCAR history, only Johnson and teammate Gordon (DuPont) have had the same sponsor for each of their first 400 starts.
Gordon’s Daytona 500 performances since his most recent victory in 2005 mirror that of Johnson. In seven subsequent starts, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion counts a single top 10 and four finishes of 26th or worse, including 40th in 2012.
The organization’s bright spot is Dale Earnhardt Jr., second twice as an HMS driver, including last year’s runner-up finish to Kenseth.
Kasey Kahne will make his second Daytona 500 start as a Hendrick team member – and 325th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – hoping to improve on last year’s 29th-place performance. Kahne’s best in the season opener is seventh in 2007-08.