DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — An eventful 62nd Daytona 500 that featured a visit from President Donald Trump and covered two days ended Monday evening with Denny Hamlin celebrating victory in NASCAR’s biggest race for the second year in a row.
Hamlin held off Ryan Blaney in a photo finish in the second overtime at Daytona International Speedway after multiple wrecks in the final 20 laps decimated the field in the longest Daytona 500 in history.
Hamlin has now won three of the last five Daytona 500s, while giving newly-minted Hall of Fame owner Joe Gibbs his fourth victory in the Great American Race. Hamlin also won in 2016 in the closest finish in the event’s history. This year’s finish took several moments to decide before Hamlin was declared the winner in the second-closest finish in history.
Hamlin’s three career wins at the Daytona 500 tie him with Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon for the third-most in the race’s 62-year history.
Ryan Newman, who held the lead on the white flag lap, got turned while racing for the win, and his No. 6 Ford slammed into the wall then flipped up and over landing on its roof before Corey LaJoie’s Ford slammed into his car, flipping the car once again.
Safety crews rushed to Newman’s aid to help him from the car. He was immediately taken to a local hospital.
In the first overtime, Michael McDowell and Clint Bowyer made contact on the restart second the race to the second overtime.
Contact between Ross Chastain and Ryan Preece running near the front of the pack with three laps remaining caused a multi-car wreck that also collected Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Tyler Reddick. NASCAR officials dropped the red flag to clear the track, leaving 18 cars on the lead lap to chase victory in overtime with Hamlin leading the way with Chris Buescher in second.
Following a restart with 10 laps to go, Reed Sorenson cut a tire and slid up in front of Timmy Hill, causing damage to both vehicles and bringing out another caution.
The Big One hits
After a relatively calm — by superspeedway standards — the Big One broke out with 16 laps remaining taking out a number of really strong cars, including seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who was likely racing in his final Daytona 500.
The chaos began after Logano’s No. 22 Ford got a strong push on Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Ford bumping him into the back of Brad Keselowski. The hard contact on Keselowski caused his No. 2 Ford to spin, setting off a chain reaction.
Nearly 20 cars were involved in the mahem, with Johnson, Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch knocked out of the race with severe damage. When the race returned to green with 10 laps to go, only 22 cars remained on the lead lap.
One lap prior to the big wreck, Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota started smoking and he brought it to pit road. But after changing four tires and getting back on track, smoke continued to pour out of Busch’s car, and the reigning series champion, who has won everything but the Daytona 500, was forced to go to the garage, ending his race.
Defending Daytona 500 champ Hamlin had the lead for the restart at the beginning of the second 65-lap stage, and he never relinquished it, winning the stage and earning one playoff point. He and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, who spent a large chunk of the first stage in the back of the field, were running up front with him for much of the stage.
Behind Hamlin, Kyle Busch, pole winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Truex., Chastain, Johnson, Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Logano and Chris Buescher finished the second stage in the top 10.
Hamlin and his JGR teammates were able to open the second stage up front because they pitted prior to the first stage break. And after only four green laps in the first stage, all four drivers were out front with Hamlin followed by Truex, Busch and Erik Jones, respectively. But Jones ultimately fell back behind his teammates.
Nearing the halfway point in the race, the fourth caution flag of the day came out on Lap 91 when B.J. McLeod and Quin Houff crashed in the back half of the field.
Kevin Harvick suffered some damage to the back of his No. 4 Ford because of it, and he pitted before pit road opened so his team could begin to work on the damage to the back right side of the car.
Harvick and his fellow Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, Almirola, rookie Cole Custer, and Clint Bowyer, were in the bottom third of the field for the much of the second stage.
Elliott won the first stage of the Daytona 500 and earned the first playoff point of the season. He was followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Logano, Johnson, Blaney, Stenhouse, Matt DiBenedetto, Buescher and Ty Dillon to round out the top-10 finishers.
The biggest race of the NASCAR season resumed Monday afternoon following Sunday’s postponement for rain after only 20 laps completed. Monday’s action started with a yellow caution flag, during which everyone pitted to get fresher tires and fill up on fuel.
Teamwork among those racing for the same organizations, as well as manufacturers, is often popular at a superspeedway track like Daytona because drafting together is so important. And Monday was no different.
Just 21 laps after the initial restart, all four Hendrick Motorsports cars were running up front, led by Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet. Johnson, Bowman and William Byron lined up behind Elliott, respectively, and not long after they took control of the lead, six of the top-10 cars were Chevrolets with Stenhouse and Ty Dillon.
But on Lap 58 with just seven to go in the first stage, Stenhouse made contact with Byron’s left rear bumper, sending the No. 24 car flying through the grass. After getting a little air as he slid, Byron’s car hit the safer barrier on the inside of the track, destroying the front of his car and making him the first driver to exit the race.
Byron was able to get out of the car himself before heading to the infield medical care center, where he was evaluated and cleared.
“Obviously, I got hit in the back bumper,” Byron said. “It’s unfortunate. I feel like there’s really no reason to be that aggressive moving across my bumper, but it is what it is.”
While the Ford cars, particularly Almirola, Harvick, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Logano and Blaney were running toward the front of the field behind the Chevys, several of the Toyota cars seemed to have the opposite strategy. Sacrificing potential stage points they could earn by finishing the segment in the top 10, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Truex and Erik Jones, hung around in the back half of the field, possibly trying to avoid potential chaos should it develop in front of them.
Sunday excitement leads to storms
After being red-flagged for rain twice on Sunday, the resumption of the Daytona 500 was moved to Monday. Only 20 laps of a scheduled 200 were completed on Sunday, with Stenhouse, in the No. 47 Chevrolet, leading every lap. The Fords of Logano, Almirola, Newman, Harvick and Keselowski followed, respectively.
Sunday began with a packed grandstand brimming with anticipation as Donald Trump became the second president to serve as grand marshal for the Daytona 500, following George W. Bush in 2004. After Trump instructed drivers to start their engines, the presidential limo took a lap around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, serving as the pace car for the 40-driver field. However, before honorary starter Dale Earnhardt Jr. could wave the green flag, showers hit the track, leading to the first of two red flags.
Contributing: The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ellen J. Horrow.