Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images via NASCAR

Jimmie Johnson Tops Opening Daytona 500 Practice

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Just like old times.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson may have taken a two-year detour into open wheel, but in 2023, he’s back behind the wheel of a stock car and back to his old self, topping the board in the first practice session of the Daytona 500 weekend on Friday evening.

Johnson came into the week at Daytona International Speedway needing to qualify into Sunday’s 65th running of the Great American Race, which he did with ease on Wednesday and then kept his No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet clean in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels.

Fast forward to Friday and Johnson found himself near the top of the scoring pylon early on in the one-hour shakedown session. Though the Fords took the upper hand through the midpoint of practice, the closing minutes saw Johnson back on top with a lap of 46.338 seconds, 194.225 mph.

Afterwards Johnson explained that as he has continued to make laps, his vast stock car knowledge has continued to come back, as well as learning the new intricacies of the Next Gen car.

“I’d say 70% of it, 80% of it, it’s still a stock car and it’s still the draft here. So, the large majority is familiar, the large majority of the experience,” Johnson said.

“I’m remembering little details as I make laps and get into the zone that, yeah, this works, that doesn’t work. Wind direction in turn four is always tricky. Pit road entry, pit lane exit, blend line, like all the details are coming back and it’s still really there.

“But that’ll help you run in the middle of the pack. But to win the race, you’ve gotta be on your game. So that’s the part that I’m still trying to refine and why I ran every lap I could just now and plan to again tomorrow. And then still a ton of learning to come in the race itself.”

He also took some time for some self-deprecating humor about his time in open wheel and returning to familiar territory in a stock car.

“It drives like a stock car. It doesn’t drive like an Indy car. Thank God. We know how that went,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Johnson was followed by former teammate Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Kevin Harvick, and Zane Smith rounding out the top-10 fastest drivers.

Just one final practice session remains for the teams to get their cars dialed in, with a 50-minute session scheduled for 10:30 am on Saturday morning.

The Daytona 500 will roll off at 2:30 pm Sunday on FOX.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.