Denny Hamlin won the 61st annual DAYTONA 500 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, his second triumph in “The Great American Race.”
In the process, he delivered a special ending to a special day for Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization honored Joe Gibbs’ late son J.D. Gibbs on Lap 11, as crew members stood on pit wall as a tribute. J.D. Gibbs, who passed away last month due to a neurological disease, wore No. 11 as a high school football player and later, as a race car driver himself. Hamlin’s car number: 11.
“This one’s for J.D.,” said Hamlin – also the DAYTONA 500 champion in 2016 – who was brought into the Gibbs organization by J.D. Gibbs.
“What happened here tonight is really unreal … I’m just thrilled and I think J.D. had the best view of everything,” Joe Gibbs added. “It’s emotional for all of us. It’s the most emotional win I’ve ever had in my life, in anything.”
Hamlin led a top-three sweep for Gibbs’ Toyotas. Hamlin, driving the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, edged Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Chocolate Bar Toyota) by 0.138 seconds. Erik Jones (No. 20 Sport Clips Toyota) finished third, 0.294 back. Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford), the 2015 DAYTONA 500 champion and the reigning Monster Energy Series champion, finished fourth.
This victory required “NASCAR Overtime” due to late-race incidents and two red flag periods that extended the race to 207 laps – seven laps past the scheduled distance.
A Turn 3, 21-car incident on Lap 191 necessitated a red flag while also setting the stage for a late-race shootout among some of NASCAR’s biggest stars. After the stoppage, the race was restarted on Lap 195 with Busch leading; Busch had passed Hamlin on the backstretch for the lead prior to the incident.
On that restart, the Toyotas of Busch and Hamlin were being pursued by Fords driven by Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick. The field made it to Turn 3 before another multi-car accident again brought out the caution flag.
One more restart, this time on Lap 199, was also followed by an accident in Turn 3 that involved nine cars. This time, it was Hamlin nosing past Busch prior to the caution – and a second red flag.
That set the stage for the overtime. When track clean-up was complete, the final restart came on Lap 206 and Hamlin was able to cagily out-run Busch to the checkered flag over the last two laps.
“[Kyle] got a great run on us on the backstretch, and we had to block it,” Hamlin said.
“It just wasn’t meant to be, obviously,” Busch said.
The DAYTONA 500 was divided into three “stages” of 60, 60 and 80 laps. Stage winners collect additional, valuable points that go toward the season-long standings for the Monster Energy Series championship.
Busch – the 2015 series titlist still seeking a victory in the DAYTONA 500 – took the first stage, leading Laps 35-60. His brother Kurt Busch, the 2017 DAYTONA 500 champion and 2004 series champion, saw his hopes vanish on Lap 50 when he got tangled up in a six-car, Turn 2 incident that ultimately led to a 25th-place finish.
The Stage 2 winner was determined by a spirited last-lap battle involving several cars. Ryan Blaney grabbed the win in the No. 12 Menards/Peak Ford, barely edging polesitter William Byron to end Lap 120. The stage showcased a charge to contention by Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Discount Tire Ford), who started 35th in the 40-car field. Keselowski, another past (2012) series champion yet to win the DAYTONA 500, ran as high as second during Stage 2 before finishing fourth. He ended 12th in the final race results.
Motorsports action resumes at Daytona International Speedway on March 9 with DAYTONA Supercross. That event opens the 78th annual Bike Week At DAYTONA which also includes the DAYTONA TT on March 14 and the 78th annual DAYTONA 200 on March 16. The Monster Energy Series returns on July 6, with the Coke Zero Sugar 400.