Jimmie Johnson ended his run of poor Daytona 500 results by holding off Hendrick Chevrolet teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win NASCAR's premier race for the second time.
Johnson was a factor near the front throughout a largely processional event, battling side by side with reigning champion Brad Keselowski's Penske Ford going into the closing stages.
As Keselowski's car, battered from previous incidents, lost ground at a late restart, Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle and Stewart-Haas' Danica Patrick lined up to challenge Johnson.
Despite predictions that she would swiftly fall back from pole position, Patrick spent much of the race in the top three, becoming the first woman to lead the Daytona 500 along the way. But on the final lap, Patrick and Biffle were both caught out when Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip Racing's Mark Martin came surging down the inside line.
Johnson had just enough of an edge to beat his teammate by 0.129 second, with Earnhardt and Martin completing the top three ahead of Keselowski. The result was the first time Johnson had finished in the top 25 in the Daytona 500 since his 2006 win.
"Plate racing is an awfully tough form of racing and there's a lot of luck involved," he said. "Pack racing is a little different. You can't ride and wait for things to happen. You have to race all day long and fight for track position. This this Lowe's Chevrolet was so good. [Crew chief] Chad Knaus and all of Hendrick Motorsports had me a fast car and I could really stay up front all day long. I had a lot of confidence in the final few laps leading the train, so I knew just how fast the car was. So, big credit to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports."
Earnhardt credited third-place man Martin for helping boost him at the end.
"I couldn't have done much without Mark helping me here at the end," he admitted. "I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking as we come off of Turn Two on that last lap. I felt like we needed to make the move a little earlier than off of 4.
"I kept backing up, backing up, trying not to let guys get racing behind us too much. If somebody ducked out of line a couple rows behind Mark. I was going to have a gap, me and Mark could take off, not get hung up with those guys. Once we come off of Two, mashed the gas, got a run on Danica, side-drafted her a little bit. I don't know why them guys didn't pull down in front of me besides Jimmie, but we got through Three and Four with a pretty good run."
Patrick ended up eighth, behind Ryan Newman, Biffle and Regan Smith. It was the highest finish ever by a woman in the Daytona 500, but Patrick played down her strong showing.
"I think that would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top 10 is where we need to be every week," said Patrick. "I think that's setting up for failure. The list of drivers in the Cup series is deep. This is a unique track. These (restrictor-plate) tracks are different and unique. (It's) a lot about the car.
"I mean, you have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time, but it's very much about the car. I feel like I'm still sticking to, 'Let's see how these first five races go,' where we go to a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in, start to establish goals from there on out."
Underdogs Michael McDowell (Phil Parsons Racing) and JJ Yeley (Tommy Baldwin Racing) secured big pay days by finishing in the final top 10 spots.
Keselowski's Penske Ford sustained its damage in the two major pile-ups of the first three quarters of the race. Duel winner Kevin Harvick and three-time champion Tony Stewart were both eliminated in the race's first multi-car crash, collected in a chain reaction after Kyle Busch tapped Kasey Kahne into a spin on lap 33.
Keselowski had a minor role in that tangle, then starred in the second on lap 13, when a touch from Trevor Bayne sent him bouncing over the grass.
While the champion managed to rejoin, 2011 Daytona winner Bayne spun and took out a host of drivers including Carl Edwards and rookie Austin Dillon, who had earlier been a top-three factor.
Toyota filled the top six places heading toward the final stint, only for a string of engine failures to strike its top teams. Matt Kenseth led the most laps on his debut for Joe Gibbs Racing, but had to park just before the same fate befell teammate Busch.
Waltrip driver Martin Truex Jr.'s Toyota also wilted while in the top three in the late stages.
Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin finished 11th and 14th having earlier fought for the lead.
Jeff Gordon got around front row partner Patrick to lead at the start and stayed there until the first pit stops. But he dropped back thereafter as he had to nurse an overheating Chevrolet, and was only 20th at the flag.
Results - 200 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 3h10m14.000s
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.129s
3. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 0.255s
4. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford + 0.359s
5. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 0.477s
6. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 0.524s
7. Regan Smith Phoenix Chevrolet + 0.626s
8. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 0.658s
9. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford + 0.691s
10. JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet + 0.731s
11. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 0.827s
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford + 1.176s
13. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1.198s
14. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1.279s
15. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 1.542s
16. David Reutimann BK Toyota + 2.273s
17. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 5.306s
18. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 8.581s
19. Joey Logano Penske Ford + 9.266s
20. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 11.216s
21. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 18.220s
22. Michael Waltrip Swan Toyota + 19.788s
23. Scott Speed Leavine Ford + 20.714s
24. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 24.753s
25. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 1 lap
26. Terry Labonte FAS Lane Ford + 1 lap
27. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 2 laps
28. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps
29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 18 laps
30. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 24 laps*
31. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet + 24 laps
32. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 38 laps
33. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 40 laps
* Not running at chequered flag
Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 151 laps
David Ragan Front Row Ford 150 laps
Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 150 laps**
Matt Kenseth Gibbs Toyota 149 laps
David Gilliland Front Row Ford 144 laps
Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 144 laps**
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 137 laps
Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 118 laps**
Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 47 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 42 laps
** Running again at chequered flag