Pole sitter Jeff Gordon is aiming to win in his final Daytona 500 and led at the halfway point of today’s Great American Race after leading 77 of the first 100 laps.
Prior to today, the most laps he had led at Daytona was 72 en route to his 1995 summer victory.
Under partly cloudy skies, the 500 got underway with Gordon leading the opening lap, ensuring the 18th time he has led at least one lap in the Great American Race according to NASCAR. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, then took over the point at Lap 2.
But at Lap 14, Johnson was shuffled out of the lead as Gordon moved back up front with defending 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Team Penske’s Joey Logano becoming his closest pursuers. Johnson settled in the lower reaches of the Top 10 after gathering up his No. 48 Chevrolet.
On Lap 19, the first caution of the day came out when Landon Cassill suffered a smoky engine failure coming out of Turn 2.
“It was sudden,” Cassill said. “Just a typical engine failure where you never see it coming. Really unfortunate for my team because we really worked hard on this car and for this race.”
Gordon led the front-runners into the pits and led them all out ahead of the Lap 25 restart. As the second stint progressed, Gordon remained up front leading Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Logano.
Then on Lap 41, Tony Stewart slid up coming out of Turn 4 and made contact with rookie Ryan Blaney. Stewart went into the outside wall as a result, and directly behind them, Matt Kenseth did the same after Michael Waltrip knocked into him.
Stewart took blame for the incident over his team radio. His Stewart-Haas Racing team also reported that in addition to right-front damage, his steering on the No. 14 had also been compromised:
Both Stewart and Kenseth were still on pit road undergoing repairs when the green came back out at Lap 46; Kenseth would return to action but Stewart ended up going to the garage. Meanwhile, off the restart, Logano became the first Ford driver to lead today’s event with Johnson coming up to take second position.
He would lead six laps before Gordon side-drafted him on the outside coming off Turn 4 on Lap 52 and went into the lead again. Earnhardt again slipped into second place, while dark horse Martin Truex Jr. got third spot. Logano fell back to about fifth.
Green flag stops ensued at Lap 87, with Gordon and Earnhardt giving up first and second respectively. During the cycle, multiple front-runners were hit with pit road penalties including Edwards, Truex, and Kyle Larson for speeding, and Johnson for his crew going over the wall too soon.
At cycle’s end, Gordon was in the lead once again ahead of Hendrick teammates Kahne and Earnhardt and two Richard Childress Racing drivers, rookie Ty Dillon and Paul Menard.