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Feeling vindicated

Johnson makes statement, wins his first Daytona

Knight Ridder Newspapers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Clouds hung low over Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, but for Jimmie Johnson and his team, everything was beautiful.

Johnson passed teammate Brian Vickers for the lead on Lap 187 and stayed there to score a Daytona 500 victory Sunday that he felt provided vindication for a team that made headlines for the wrong reason during Speedweeks.

One week earlier, NASCAR disallowed Johnson's lap after finding a rules violation on the No.48 Chevrolet in inspections after qualifying for the season's first race. Crew chief Chad Knaus was "ejected" from activities leading up to the 500, and faces potential further penalties this week for that infraction.

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So with team engineer Darian Grubb calling the shots in Knaus' place, Johnson went out and made what he called a "statement" by picking up the 19th -- and biggest -- Nextel Cup victory of his career.

"I just have so much pride in my team with the circumstances that we've faced this week," Johnson said. "Chad made a mistake and we're dealing with the consequences that come with that. But I think this shows how hard we work to be successful, and nobody can deny the fact that we worked our butts off and won the sport's biggest race."

Eighteen different drivers led on Sunday, but Johnson was the last one to do it.

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