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Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon early outs in Monday's Daytona 500, and Danica too

 First lap: big crash (top to bottom) involving Jimmie Johnson, David Ragan, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Jimmie Johnson isn't getting off to a great start, and things could get worse before they get better.
   And teammate Jeff Gordon didn't fare much better in Monday's NASCAR season opener.

   The Daytona 500 was in just the first lap when Johnson got crashed out, when tagged from behind by Elliott Sadler, and then drilled hard in the door by David Ragan.
   Sadler, running a part-time Cup schedule this season, apologized for the incident, which also took out Trevor Bayne and Danica Patrick, two of the big SpeedWeeks story lines.
   And later Gordon lost his engine.
   Johnson got his bell rung: "That side hit was hard."
   He was in the outside lane, "and we were all just trying to make our lane work…a lot of energy in the lane…we were all just getting up to speed.
   "I was pushing Regan Smith, when I could feel some help from behind that just turned me around.
    "When I was sitting in the middle of the track, I knew someone was going to come along, unfortunately.
    "David Ragan had nowhere to go. I got drilled by him pretty hard."

    NASCAR's first primetime Monday night Daytona 500. And now the TV ratings? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The crash and 41st place finish aren't the only issues Johnson is facing as the NASCAR season opens. Crew chief Chad Knaus is facing possible sanctions for that unapproved body modification NASCAR found Feb. 17; those sanctions could include points deductions for the team….and since Johnson will only have about three points from this race, he could go into next Sunday race at Phoenix in negative territory.
   "I'm just really, really bummed to start the season this way," Johnson says. "For all the hard work that has gone into getting ready for tonight, we didn't get to complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing.
   "I'm pretty bummed."

    Ragan was more than that: "I can't wait to see who was the bonehead that did that.
   "I was just trying to see the monitor to see who I can be mad at.
    "It is ridiculous to sit around this long for the Daytona 500, and on the very first lap for someone to be driving as reckless as whoever caused that.
    "They started wrecking in front of us, and we couldn't get out of the way quick enough."



Terry Labonte (32) was running second near the midway point of the 500 and looking at the $200,000 halfway bonus....when he got drilled in the rear by Marcos Ambrose (yellow Stanley) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  Bayne, last year's winner and this year still looking for a major full-time sponsor, was upset too:
  "You spend a couple days waiting in the rain, and something happens on lap one,"  Bayne said.
   "I tried to get as low as I could; I couldn't see what was going on. I got low and got slowed down, and at the last second a car hit us in the right-side door and put us into the grass. 
    "The only thing we really touched was the grass, but I guess it's so wet that it tore up the front of the car."

    Gordon seemed surprised at his engine problems.
   "There has been so much reliability testing that if we had seen some high temps or some high water pressure, then I would have expected some of this to happen, but I was actually seeing some surprising low temps and low pressures," Gordon said.
   Bad gauges perhaps?
   "Maybe something was off there," he concedes.
    At least Gordon brought his car back in one piece.
   "Lap one got everybody's attention," Gordon said. "I just saw Jimmie get turned sideways. After that everybody was using their heads."



Danica in Sprint Cup

Which race do you think that Danica Patrick will finish in the top 10 or win at in her Limited Sprint Cup Series Races in 2012?

mmmm, uh, er....she's 0-for-3

mmmm, uh, er....she's 0-for-3 in her first week. i just want to see her finish a race.

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