Joe Gibbs Racing Finishes 1-2-3 as Hamlin Captures Emotional Daytona 500 Victory
A storybook couldn't have been written better. Just over one month removed from the death of Joe Gibbs Racing's co-founder, J.D. Gibbs, JGR claims the top three spots in the first race since his passing. Not to mention it was also the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500. J.D.'s name rode shotgun on the doorpost of the car with his favorite number, 11, driven by the driver he found racing late-models in Virginia, Denny Hamlin, as the FedEx Express Toyota took home the checkered flag Sunday night.
JGR teammate Kyle Busch finished second in tow of Hamlin and Erik Jones took a damaged racecar from 8th to 3rd on the final two laps to edge defending series champion, Joey Logano at the line to secure the 1-2-3 finish for JGR. The only other time an organization has claimed the top three finishing positions in the Daytona 500 was in 1997 when Hendrick Motorsports accomplished the feat with Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, and Ricky Craven.
The Great American Race lived up to its normal billing, 160 laps of controlled bumper-to-bumper traffic at 200 miles per hour followed by 40 laps of absolute chaos. Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman led the field to the green flag. Before the race, there was a bit of uncertainty with how well the bottom line would work in relation to the top line that dominated in the duel qualifying races, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. put those worries to bed when he pulled the bottom train of cars alongside and by Byron to take the lead on lap three.
Stages one and two were rather uneventful. Each stage only had one caution and both ended with short shootouts for stage points. Kyle Busch won stage one over Bowman and Joey Logano. Ryan Blaney earned the stage two victory by edging out pole-sitter William Byron and Aric Almirola.
Per usual, the action picked up at lap 160 right as green-flag pitstops were scheduled to occur. As the first group broke off and dove to pit road, Cody Ware got into the back of teammate B.J. McLeod and sent him spinning into Tyler Reddick who then collected Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Johnson and Reddick sustained the most damage but both were able to continue on after repairs. With the caution, every team took the opportunity to hit pit road one last time all would be able to make it the rest of the way on fuel.
The race restarted with 32 laps to go, but only ran seven laps before the caution came out once again, this time for debris in turn three. Five more times the race would be stopped for caution before reaching its conclusion. The first two incidents were solo spins by Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski on separate occasions five laps apart. Then the real carnage began.
With ten laps to go in regulation, Hamlin and Kyle Busch took the first green to restart the race. Going down the backstretch on the first lap, Paul Menard gave Matt DiBenedetto too big of a push and sent the #95 spinning to trigger the "Big One." In total, 21 cars were involved in the accident. Eleven of those involved did not go on the finish the race including Blaney, Almirola, and Martin Truex Jr.
After the cleanup, Busch and Hamlin led the field to the restart once again with six laps to go. Just like the last restart, towards the end of the backstretch on the first lap calamity broke loose again. This time the accident was caused when Stenhouse Jr. tried to fit into a hole between Larson and Kevin Harvick. Larson went down to block too late and all three went spinning. Chase Elliott, Bowman, and Keselowski were collected in the wreckage. However, Harvick was the only one unable to continue on.
Once again led by Hamlin and Busch, the field took the restart with two laps ago. Just like the previous two tries, the field didn't make it to Turn Three before wrecking again. Clint Bowyer got an excellent run below Michael McDowell but didn't quite clear him before as he tried to move in front, Bowyer gets turned directly into Byron and five more cars get collected including Elliott again. This would be the final caution of the race.
For a fourth and final time, Hamlin and Busch led the field to the restart in overtime. Hamlin darted out in front of Busch and never relinquished to lead again.
The Daytona 500 victory is Hamlin's second career win in The Great American Race (2016) and 32nd overall tying him with Dale Jarrett for 23rd on the all-time Cup Series Wins list. The victory is Gibbs' third in the 500 (Jarrett '93, Hamlin x2) and 158th all-time at the Cup Series level.