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Late-race crashes turn open entries’ fortunes upside down

Jimmie Johnson’s No. 84 Carvana Chevrolet Camaro drives down pit road in the Feb. 19, 2023 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Credit: Dominic Aragon/TRE

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — Jimmie Johnson was the standout open entry in Sunday’s 65th Daytona 500 but multiple late-race crashes changed how that looked on the final results sheet.

Johnson was the only open driver to score a top-10 stage finish – 7th in stage one – but was the only open driver who didn’t finish the 500.

On Lap 203, Johnson was one of the first to meet William Byron and Austin Dillon, as they spun back up the track entering turn 3.

Jimmie Johnson drives along the tri-oval in the Feb. 19, 2023 Daytona 500 after a race-ending wreck. Credit: Dominic Aragon/TRE

The wreck caused Johnson’s car to sustain race-ending damage and have a 31st-place finish after heading toward being the highest-finishing open driver.

Instead, Travis Pastrana was the highest-finishing open driver in the Daytona 500 in 11th.

Pastrana started the race with a speeding penalty. It buried him in 37th and 32nd at the end of the stages and even in 30th with 30 laps to go.

Then, two multi-car crashes in those final laps moved Pastrana up to 9th on the final lap.

Although a bad bump turned him into Kyle Larson to start a wreck, Pastrana brought the car back to the start-finish line and was 11th at the time of caution.

Credit: Dominic Aragon/TRE

After the race, Pastrana joked the kids’ college trust fund was going to be okay and explained how he accidentally led a lap. He also called running the Daytona 500 “an honor” and said it’s going to be a one-and-done effort.

“I’m not good enough to be the best at this sport with my skillset. The amount of time it would take [to get good] wouldn’t work with how I’m trying to slow down but I came here because it’s the best I’ve ever been as a driver and we’re winning dirt championships. I wanted to experience the Daytona experience,” Pastrana said.

While Pastrana and Johnson ran into various on-track issues, the other open drivers had mechanical issues that prevented them from running well.

Conor Daly, for instance, ran the entire Daytona 500 without a rear-view mirror.

“Our car was slow and had a lot of issues, like the rear-view mirror. I couldn’t see anything behind me, only in front of me. I never had it, [it popped up] as soon as I turned on the car,” Daly explained to TRE.

The issue didn’t stop Daly from racing in the pack after starting 34th. However, poor pit stops and multiple penalties – including penalties for speeding and a crewman over the wall too soon happening in the same stop – put him back to 39th and 35th in the stages and multiple laps down.

At the finish, Daly finished 29th, 6 laps down, as the second-to-last car running at the finish.

“[My first Daytona 500] was honestly pretty boring. I really enjoyed being in the pack and when guys would work with us. Our car was great then. I just had no rear-view mirror, was dealing with a lot and was slow.” Daly said.

Zane Smith had electronic dashboard issues that put him in 35th and 31st at the end of the stages. However, Smith stayed on the lead lap and moved up to 12th amid the slew of wrecks.

“It was hectic. I tried staying out of everyone’s mess since I didn’t have anything to go prove, no need to get stage points. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky lately and we came out with a 12th-place finish. Wish we didn’t have as many issues as we had today since my dash wasn’t working,” Smith said.

“My favorite moment of the race was crossing the start-finish line.”

Zane Smith drives on pit road during the Feb. 19, 2023 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Credit: Dominic Aragon/TRE

Smith will be back in the NASCAR Cup Series, March 12 at Phoenix Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET; TV: FOX; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), driving the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

The defending Truck champion will also run at Talladega in April, the Coca-Cola 600 in May, Sonoma in June, Texas in September and the Charlotte Roval in October.

Daly expects to return to the NASCAR Cup Series, March 26 at COTA (3:30 p.m. ET; TV: FOX, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Johnson’s next confirmed race will be July 2 at the Chicago street course (5:30 p.m. ET; TV: NBC; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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