Johnson "Torn" Over Daytona 500 Finish

Tuesday, February 20th 2007, 6:06 pm
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) After watching the replay of the final lap of the Daytona 500, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said Tuesday he's "torn" over the way the race ended.

Despite a multicar accident coming out of the final turn of Sunday's season-opening race, NASCAR did not call a caution and Kevin Harvick beat Mark Martin to the checkered flag in one of the most dramatic finishes in recent history.

Johnson, the 2006 Daytona winner and Nextel Cup champion, said his initial thought was that caution should have been called for safety reasons and Martin should have been awarded the win. But he also believes the biggest race of the season should not be decided that way.

"At first when I watched it, I felt Mark Martin deserved that win and the caution should have come out," Johnson said Tuesday. "Then watching everything develop and the opinions from Mark and the opinions from fans and the whole scenario, I'm torn.

"For this scenario it worked out. Safety wasn't compromised. No one was injured. Both drivers seem OK with the situation. You want to determine a race at the start-finish line. I guess Mark Martin's comments swayed my opinion more than anything."

Martin was initially critical of NASCAR's delay, complaining over his radio that the caution flag came too late. It wasn't waved until Clint Bowyer's car flipped onto its roof -- after Harvick and Martin crossed the finish line.

But Martin, who dropped to 0-23 in the Daytona 500, had accepted the outcome by the time he reached the post-race news conference.

"No one wants to hear a grown man cry," the 48-year-old Martin said. "I'm not going to cry about it. This is the end. They made the decision. That's what we're going to live with."

Harvick, who has seen numerous replays of the finish while on a whirlwind media blitz to celebrate the win, said Tuesday it didn't matter when the caution came out because his car was ahead of Martin's when the melee began.

"If they throw the caution when the first car spins, we're still ahead," Harvick said during a national teleconference. "It's a hard call to make. If you don't throw the caution you're in hot water. If you throw the caution you're in hot water.

"There's really no right or wrong answer. It's a hard spot to be in. I'm glad I don't have to make those calls."

But Johnson said consistency should be addressed by NASCAR. The sanctioning body did throw the caution on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway in 2005, giving the win to Dale Jarrett instead of Tony Stewart. Had the two been allowed to race to the finish, Stewart would have won.

"Would this take place if it happened at Pocono coming off of Turn 3 to the finish?" Johnson asked. "Or is it just the Daytona 500? So they have a lot of stuff they need to figure out."