Jimmie Johnson celebrates winning the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24, 2013. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson won his second Daytona 500, passing defending series champion Brad Keselowski on a restart with Sunday and fending off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last-lap charge.
Danica Patrick, who started from the pole position and became the first woman to lead the Great American Race, finished eighth after entering the last lap in third position.
Earnhardt was runner-up followed by Mark Martin, Keselowski and Ryan Newman.
Johnson said in a TV interview that he hoped the fans injured in Saturday's last-lap crash were recovering. Drivers echoed those sentiments after the race.Earnhardt said the vibe in the garage was more somber as everyone awaited word on the status of the fans hospitalized.
He said once drivers learned that fans were going to recover, the mood lifted.
"Once you got in the car, it was business as usual," he said.
NASCAR's new Gen 6 model debuted in its first Cup race. It is supposed to help increase passing and give fans a more exciting product, however the last two laps were run in a single-line train.
"I thought the car put on a really good show all week. The 125s (Budweiser Duel) were pretty racy," Earnhardt said. "The first 100 miles, if everybody commits to the top, you'll just get freight trained. It's just too much of a risk. ...
"Danica's done so good all week. She's pretty tenacious. I just went where I needed to go all day long. You needed to be decisive on whether to go or not go," Earnhardt added of racing with Patrick. His Chevrolet was running behind her Chevrolet or near her for the close of the race.
Coming out of pit road after a stop earlier in the race, he didn't give Patrick any leeway, passing her on the high side.
Said Patrick: "It was nice to lead later in the race, to do that. I didn't feel like it was a wise idea to drop low and figure out how to pass."
Martin, a fan of hip-hop music, gave a shout-out to a rap artist after his finish.
"We told 50 Cent if we won he'd have to change his name to 55 Cent for one day," Martin joked.
The two pre-race favorites - Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick - were eliminated from contention Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in a multicar wreck on the 34th lap. The nine-car accident was triggered when Kyle Busch bumped Kasey Kahne in Turn 1, and Stewart, Harvick, Kahne and the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolets of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya suffered major damage. Defending series champion Keselowski was involved, but his team repaired the damage.
Stewart, who has 19 wins at Daytona but none in the Great American Race, will have to wait another year.
Harvick, who was attempting the trifecta after winning the exhibition Sprint Unlimited and one of the Budweiser Duel sprints, was caught up in the same nine-car crash early.
"If I didn't tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed I'd be lying to you," Stewart said. "We had a car that was really, really good."
Harvick, who won the 2007 Daytona 500, had entered the race as a favorite after winning the Sprint Unlimited and a Duel qualifying race.
"That's just part of this game," Harvick said. "We'll rebound next week in Phoenix and get on with our season."
With just over 60 laps to go, another multi-car wreck occurred when Keselowski was bumped from behind by Trevor Bayne.
Though Keselowski saved his car, Bayne started spinning and collected all three Front Row Motorsports cars -- Josh Wise, David Gilliland and David Ragan -- as well as Terry Labonte, Austin Dillon and Carl Edwards.
And Matt Kenseth -- in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, and teammate Kyle Busch -- experienced engine woes.
Sunday's Daytona 500 came a day after a horrific crash on the frontstretch during Saturday's Nationwide race sent an engine through a catchfence and tires and debris into the stands.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said Sunday morning that the fence had been repaired, but without the crossover gate, and no other enforcements had been added or modifications made.