He’s the defending champion of NASCAR’s biggest race. Last year’s victory was his second in the Daytona 500. And he’s coming off his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. One more and he ties the record for most all time, with inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Yet, Jimmie Johnson somehow comes into Daytona a bit under the radar. Buzz has surrounded Austin Dillon and Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick and an all-world rookie class.
The low-key high-performance Johnson’s likely fine with that. An early-race wreck in the Sprint Unlimited will undoubtedly do little to deter Johnson on his march towards #Se7en.
Johnson last year added his name – again – to an illustrious list of drivers who have won multiple Daytona 500s. Ten drivers have no done it, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (seven wins), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three) and Dale Jarrett (three). Come Sunday, Johnson hopes to join an even more exclusive group. Only three drivers have won back-to-back Daytona 500s: Petty (1973-74), Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95).
And if he does, he’ll be one step closer to making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the 11th consecutive time. This year, the top 15 winners are guaranteed a spot in the Chase. A win in the season-opening race will all but guarantee a berth into NASCAR’s playoffs.