Denny Hamlin was able to hold off teammate Kyle Busch and defending series champion Joey Logano in the closing laps of the Great American Race to capture his second Harley J. Earl trophy in the Daytona 500.
A race that had started out tame as far as wrecks, suddenly turned to chaos in the closing laps as Paul Menard bump-drafted the No. 95 of Matt DiBenedetto a little too hard with 10 to go that triggered a massive 20-plus car pileup that ended many drivers hopes of holding the trophy. As Ricky Craven said back in the Fox Sports booth, in the closing laps every driver can see themselves hoisting the trophy, there’s no lifting now.
DiBi led the most laps on the day with 49 pacing pole-sitter William Byron who led 44, during his first run with a new team and manufacturer, but had a 28th place result to show for it. After a nearly half hour red flag cleanup, the field reset and the green flag waved again. A few more wrecks would ensue including one where Clint Bowyer tried to weave through a hole and triggered a 9-car accident that sent the 61st running of the Daytona 500 to overtime.
Prior to that restart, Kyle Busch had chosen the bottom line that set-up Hamlin taking the lead before the yellow flag was shown and the field was frozen. Hamlin thanked his lucky stars, chose the top line for the final restart and the rest is history. He surged ahead of the 18 and held off the rest of the field as he crossed the finish line.
Not only did Hamlin capture his second victory in the biggest race of the year, but he also snapped a 47-race drought dating back to his Southern 500 win in 2017. The 38-year-old Hamlin proved he’s in his prime now with his 32nd career win and with a new crew chief in Chris Gabehart, he’s ready to go win that elusive first championship.
“It was just one of those days where I felt like it was meant to be. Hats off to Kyle as well, I know we was eagerly wanting his first victory in the Daytona 500, but today we just weren’t going to be denied,” Hamlin said.
A very emotional Coach Gibbs and the entire JGR family celebrated the massive win just five weeks after the death of President J.D. Gibbs. “The whole family did so much for me over the course of my career. This one is for J.D. We’re desperately going to miss him for the rest of our lives. His legacy lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing and I’m proud to do this for them,” Denny concluded.
Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Joey Logano and Michael McDowell rounded out the Top 5. A 1-2-3 finish for JGR. Jimmie Johnson, despite his car being torn to pieces in a few incidents, still found a way to bring it home in the top ten.
NASCAR racing is officially back after a two and a half month layoff and I couldn’t be more pumped about it. Excited to see what the new rules package has in store for the intermediate tracks like Atlanta & Las Vegas in the coming weeks and how this season will play out.
I’m glad the sport is expanding its reach inviting out NFL stars to take part in the Daytona festivities such as JJ Watt & Julian Edelman, while also getting Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy involved in the run-up and converting him into a fan of the sport. That will go a long way in getting the next generation of sports fans interested in the sport.
One last note, if you listened to my advice pre-race on the 500, hopefully you cashed in on Hamlin. He was one of my picks at 14/1 along with Jimmie at 18/1. My sleeper Menard at 30/1, went out in the major wreck, but the 21 Ford Mustang would’ve otherwise been in it at the end.
1 of 36 races down in 2019, but despite all the hype and lead-up, the Great American Race didn’t disappoint viewers.