Johnson eyes 2nd straight win in Daytona exhibition event

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The last trophy won by Jimmie Johnson sits in his youngest daughter’s bedroom, where it will likely remain until Daddy can bring home new hardware.

Lydia is only 6, too young to remember almost any of Johnson’s 83 Cup victories. So she claimed the Busch Clash trophy Johnson earned in last year’s exhibition opener at Daytona International Speedway, where he’ll try Sunday to earn a second win in the 75-lap shootout.

That win is the only trip to victory lane Johnson has made since early in the 2017 season and he’s now decided to make this year his last as a full-time NASCAR driver. The seven-time champion feels the sting of his long losing streak, with no tougher critic than young Lydia.

“That trophy is still sitting in my daughter’s room. She asked me to bring her a trophy home and we did, and it’s still sitting on her nightstand in her room,” Johnson said. “My wife suggested that we move it to the trophy room in my man cave, and (Lydia) said ‘Nope, not until Daddy brings another one home’, so I have the pressure.”

The 18-driver Clash field is composed of 2019 pole winners, former Clash winners, former Daytona winners and former Daytona 500 pole winners, all of whom must have competed full time last season.

Johnson is a two-time winner of both the Daytona 500 and the Clash, but to make it back-to-back in the Speedweeks staple, Johnson will undoubtedly have to get through the Toyota juggernaut at Joe Gibbs Racing.

The organization went 1-2-3 to sweep last year’s Daytona 500 and combined to win a record 19 of 36 races. Gibbs driver Kyle Busch is the reigning NASCAR champion.

In the only practice for Sunday’s race, Gibbs drivers Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Busch went 1-2-3-4. Johnson was 17th in the 18-driver field, ahead of only Kyle Larson. Chevrolet, which this year is rolling out an updated Camaro, had the bottom four spots in Clash practice.

Busch said the practice session isn’t a true indicator of how the race may go, with manufacturer alliances ironed out during the session. Drivers were also knocking off the rust from a nearly three-month offseason.

“Trying not to tear up stuff — I think there’s more of a push on that by the owners just to try to get through this year with the cars that we have so they don’t have to rebuild new ones every single speedway race,” Busch said.

“I think the biggest thing is just trying to run all the laps, trying to stay out of the mess, trying not to create any mess and just have a good run. Obviously, you want to win, but it not being an important race or a points race, just kind of knock the bugs off and get ready to go for next week.”


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