DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After enduring a win-less 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign, Denny Hamlin broke through into the win column immediately, capturing the 61st running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
In what could be considered a storybook ending after the tragic news of the passing of J.D. Gibbs a few weeks ago, Hamlin closed the chapter and etched his name on the Harley J. Earl trophy once more.
“It’s just amazing to be in this position, and thank FedEx, Toyota, all these partners, Coca-Cola, The Jordan Brand, Monster Energy, everyone who put this car on the race track,” Hamlin said in victory lane. “This is amazing. I don’t want to tear this one up because I want to put it back in my house.”
Hamlin said in the off-season that the 2019 season would be in J.D.’s memory. The FOX broadcast saluted the late J.D. Gibbs on the lap of his favorite number, lap 11.
“The whole family – they did so much for me over the course of my career,” Hamlin said. “This one is for J.D. We are desperately going to miss him the rest of our lives. His legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing and proud to do this for them.”
The first stage of the day had 60 laps, and displayed five lead changes between four drivers.
William Byron led the field to the green flag, but Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. quickly made the move to take the lead.
Matt DiBenedetto made the next move to the point on lap 7, and led the next 15 in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota.
The first caution of the day flew when Corey Lajoie’s right front tire broke apart, leaving debris in Turn 2. Kyle Busch had taken the lead for a moment, but Stenhouse, Jr. resumed leading after pit stops and through the restart.
Kyle Busch resumed leading at lap 35. The second caution flag flew at lap 51. Kurt Busch spun off the nose of Stenhouse, Jr. and collected Bubba Wallace and Jamie McMurray.
On the restart, Kyle Busch held off a late charge from Alex Bowman and Joey Logano to win Stage 1 and collected 10 stage points, and the first playoff point of the 2019 season.
Stage 2 began on lap 66, and Logano led the field as the control car on the restart.
The second stage saw five more lead changes among five different drivers.
Logano conceded the lead to Daniel Hemric when he and a group of Ford Mustangs pitted on lap 73. Hemric then gave the lead back to DiBenedetto the very next lap.
DiBenedetto continued to lead for the next 34 laps. DiBenedetto, along with Kyle Busch, Byron, Bowman, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones, had all decided to stay out of the pits as long as they could.
Just before those six drivers were going to pit, the caution flag flew for the fourth time when Casey Mears and Parker Kligerman collided entering Turn 1 in front of the majority of the field. Mears wound up as the first retired vehicle of the day.
Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Preece, and Kyle Larson opted to stay out of the pits during the caution. It worked for Blaney, as he was able to hold off a late charge from Byron to win Stage 2.
With 75 laps to go, Stage 3 kicked off like the beginning of the race, with Byron on top.
The field was soon double file, with Byron trading the lead with Jimmie Johnson.
Byron never let Johnson lead a lap, even though the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers went back and forth multiple times throughout multiple laps.
On lap 158, the caution flew for the sixth time, when Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and BJ McLeod collided, and spun into the pitting cars of Johnson, Stenhouse, Jr., and Tyler Reddick. Ware did not continue, and became the second retired vehicle of the race.
The restart came at Lap 168, with 33 laps to go in The Great American Race. McMurray took the field to the restart, but Hamlin finally took control of the race a few laps later on lap 170..
As the racing started to intensify, the caution flag flew for the seventh time for debris in Turn 3.
The restart came at lap 178, and Hamlin continued to lead.
A few laps later, Larson spun as a result of a tire going down. The eighth caution flag was displayed, with 20 laps to go.
With 16 laps to go, Hamlin brought the field back through the gears and through the tri-oval for the restart. A few laps later, Keselowski went spinning out of Turn 4 to bring out the ninth caution of the race.
Then, the big one struck.
On the restart with 10 laps to go, a good chunk of the field was involved in a multi-car incident that was triggered by Paul Menard spinning DiBenedetto heading into Turn 3. 21 cars were officially involved in the incident.
After a 24 minute and 57 second red flag period, the race resumed under yellow. Multiple teams pitted to fix what they could.
Then they wrecked again. On the restart with six laps to go, Larson and Stenhouse, Jr. collided and collected a number of cars.
Then they wrecked, AGAIN. With two laps to go in regulation, Clint Bowyer turned across the nose of Michael McDowell and collected another group of cars.
Going into NASCAR Overtime, Hamlin had the advantage over Kyle Busch on the restart. In the final two laps, he held off his teammates Kyle Busch and Jones for the victory.
Hamlin and Kyle Busch sit atop the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings ahead of the defending champion, Logano, heading into Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend.
A variation of the new 2019 aero package will be used for the first time this season.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com