Denny Hamlin claimed his second-consecutive Daytona 500 win Monday night, making him only the fourth driver in NASCAR history to win the race two-consecutive times, the first since Sterling Marin in 1995. It was his third victory in NASCAR’s biggest race, the most of any active driver. All three wins have come in the last five years.
“Proud of our whole FedEx team,” Hamlin said. “I don’t even know what to say, so unexpected. I knew they were going to come with a big run there. My job was to just make sure I didn’t put a block up where they would wreck me so I could make it to another corner. We got to the 12 [Ryan Blaney’s] bumper and got the push from there. I knew I was going to give him a big run. The race wasn’t over, and obviously, it worked out well for us there at the end. Proud of this whole FedEx team, Toyota, Coke, the Jordan brand. It’s great to have my girls here and the team celebrating back-to-back. I can’t even tell you what it means to me.”
Post-race attention, though, was on the well-being of driver Ryan Newman, who was involved in a last-lap, multi-car crash. After a push from Ryan Blaney, Newman’s car struck the wall, got airborne, flipped and landed on its roof. Then, it was hit near the driver-side door by Corey LaJoie.
“I got a big push there that last coming to the white,” LaJoie said. “I don’t know who was pushing me, and I kind of stalled out, and I don’t know who hooked Newman. I was hoping he would kind of bounce off the fence to the left, but he didn’t, and I hit him. I don’t know exactly where I hit him. I haven’t seen a replay. It was some scary stuff. Don’t get me wrong. My car was on fire. My seat belts grabbed all sorts of areas, but it was a good day for us. I hope Ryan is okay.”
Newman was leading the race at the time of the incident. He wound up with a ninth-place finish.
“I think we take for granted sometimes how safe these cars are,” Hamlin said. “We’re praying for Ryan. Worked really well with Ryan through this whole race. Obviously, he got turned right there.”
Newman was transported to Halifax Medical Center. His is in serious condition, and his injuries are not life-threatening.
Blaney finished second, Chris Buescher was third, David Ragan was fourth, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five after two over-time restarts, both results of multi-car crashes, that extended the race from its 200-lap scheduled distance to 209 laps, making it the longest-ever Daytona 500.
“That was the ugliest fourth place finish I have ever had,” Ragan said. “I wasn’t disciplined enough in my strategy, there, with about 15 to go. I felt like things were getting a little hairy and we were 16th or 18th, and that is no man’s land, here, at Daytona. I keyed the radio up going down the back straightaway and said I was going to back off a little. That is when they wrecked. I was pretty mad at myself for not seeing that earlier and getting that damage. Our Front Row Motorsports team with Rick Ware did a good job getting it fixed up. Those last few laps were exciting.”
Hamlin’s finish, 0.014 seconds ahead of Blaney, was the second-closest Daytona 500 finish in history. The closes also came with a Hamlin win in 2016.
Hamlin led a race-high 79 laps and was the winner of the second stage that ended on lap 130. Chase Elliott won the opening 65-lap stage.
The start of the race Sunday was delayed by approximately and hour, and 20 laps were completed before more rain forced the postponement until Monday evening. Pole sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led all 20 of Sunday’s laps.
Stenhouse, in his first year as a Chevrolet driver with JTG-Daugherty Racing, ran among a pack of Fords throughout most of the opening stage. He was joined among the front runners, though, by the Hendrick Motorsports quartet of Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman and William Byron by lap 40. On lap 44, Chevrolet drivers occupied the top-five, with Elliott leading, and Stenhouse in fifth.
Byron, though, was the first casualty of the race when he hit the inside wall as a result of contact from Stenhouse while running fourth on lap 59.
Frontrunners stayed out during the caution, while most Ford drivers and all five Toyota drivers, Hamlin included, opted to pit. When the first stage ended after a two-lap, green-flag run, Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, were among those who stayed out after pitting just a few laps earlier.
Before the pit strategy that got them to the front, the Toyota brigade of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Hamlin, reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones ran in the back. Hamlin was forced to the back for the start of the race after his car failed pre-race inspection twice. Christopher Bell, a rookie driver with Leavine Family Racing, which has a technical alliance with JGR, also had to start in the back. The rest of the Toyota drivers voluntarily dropped to the back to work with Hamlin and Bell.
Hamlin, then, led throughout most of the second stage, but the Toyota draft was broken up soon after a restart that resulted from a caution for a wreck involving Quin Houff and B.J. McLeod on lap 91.
The Gibbs drivers, Stenhouse and the Team Penske Ford trio of Blaney, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski ran up front before Logano led the Ford and Toyota drivers down pit road under green with 31 laps to go, handing the lead over to Johnson and teammate Bowman. The Chevrolets made their pit stop right after Stenhouse spun with after contact with Jones with 28 laps remaining. Despite the spin, the race remained green.
After the cycle of stops completed, the Toyota/Ford combo was back up front with Busch in the lead and Logano in second. keselowski, though, took the lead with 19 laps remaining as Busch fell off the pace because of an engine issue.
The first big crash came a lap later, and Johnson, Keselowski and Bowman were collected. Blaney also was involved but was able to continue after a red flag for track cleanup. The wreck began when Logano push Aric Almirola, resulting in Almirola pushing Keselowski.
That #22 car [Logano] had been pretty aggressive all day long,” Johnson said. “I just felt like it was a matter of time before his pushes were a little much, and it looks like that was the case there. But our Ally Chevy was really strong. I hate that we were tore up in it. I’m really excited about the races ahead of us. Cliff Daniels [crew chief] did a great job leading this team, full support from Hendrick Motorsports, my family, my friends, my fans. I’m just very thankful for all of that. We didn’t get to victory lane today, but I’m ready to get to Vegas and get to work out there.”
Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Clint Bowyer were up front after the incident but opted top pit, turning the front positions to Newman, Bell, Elliott and Logano for the restart.
Newman and Logano were up front for the next restart a few laps later, but with two laps to go, Hamlin took the lead. Logano was among the drivers collected in the first of two big crashes that sent the race into its two overtimes, and Bowyer was among those collected in the second. The first of those crashes resulted in another red flag. Hamlin was in the lead on each of the final two restarts, but Newman moved into the lead on the final lap.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Bowyer, Brendan Gaughan, LaJoie, Newman and Kyle Larson.