Denny Hamlin Earns Emotional Second Daytona 500 Victory; JGR Sweeps 1-2-3by Hunter Thomas February 17, 2019 0 comments
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin captured his second Daytona 500 win at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday in an emotional Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3 finish.
Just over a month ago, co-founder of Joe Gibbs Racing, J.D. Gibbs passed away. His presence was felt throughout the racetrack on Sunday as the industry took a moment to remember him on Lap 11 of The Great American Race. J.D. is credited to finding Hamlin and bringing him on-board at Joe Gibbs Racing. On a NASCAR Overtime restart Sunday night, Hamlin took the lead thanks to help from his teammate, Kyle Busch and never looked back. It was a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing as Busch held on to second and teammate, Erik Jones finished in third. The top-three sweep hasn’t happened for an organization in the Daytona 500 since Hendrick Motorsports did so in 1997.
“I got to tell you what happened right here – J.D.’s name is on that car,” team owner Joe Gibbs said while walking down pit road after Sunday’s win. “That’s his number 11 with Denny. He found Denny. I’m just saying what happened here is emotional for all of us and the family. Denny racing like he did right there is just unbelievable. I’m emotionally shot. I’m just saying, what happened here is really unreal. I’m just thrilled. I think J.D. has the best view of everything. It’s really an unbelievable experience. I don’t know how to put it into words. I just thank the Lord for letting us be a part of this.”
Hamlin was winless throughout 2018, but he entered this season with new crew chief Chris Gabehart and a rejuvenated drive to compete for his elusive first series championship. Busch who started on the inside line on the final restart of the night allowed Hamlin to drop down and take the lead in an effort to secure a win for the organization. Busch pushed Hamlin in the final two laps, but he was never able to make a move and challenge for the victory.
“They gave us the option there to just drop in front of him and I thought that was the best idea to hopefully get one of the two of our cars in victory lane,” said Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry. “I thought it was the right decision for us to stay up top there. It was a good decision. We actually got a really good run up there when we came up in three and four. I thought he was going to get position on us, but we just backed up to him just enough to keep him at bay. Proud of not only our team, but his team as well and having a great shot at the Daytona 500. I know this was as close as he came. He was a great teammate all day and we worked well together.”
Sunday’s runner-up effort marked Busch’s best finish in the Daytona 500. He won the July race at Daytona International Speedway back in 2008, but he has never finished better than third (2016) in the season opener.
“Strength is in numbers,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Chocolate Bar Toyota Camry. “We were trying to at least protect one of our cars being able to get to victory lane and I felt like we were able to do that with being able to do what we did on that last restart. Overall, it’s certainly bittersweet. It’s awesome to see a JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Camry in victory lane for Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) and everything that’s kind of gone on this offseason with all of that, but it’s very, very bittersweet for everybody at M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Skittles and Snickers and all those that support us and all my team guys that work so hard to try to get to victory lane for us and try to get our Daytona 500 victory. He’s (Denny Hamlin) got two, I’ve got none, but that’s the part of it sometimes and we just need to move on and go the next time.”
Jones who finished third on Sunday earned his best Daytona 500 finish. He’s the defending winner of the July race, but he hasn’t finished better than 36th in the Daytona 500. On Sunday, Jones lost fuel pressure late in the race, but he was able to get back onto the lead lap and compete for the top-three finish.
“We just lost fuel pressure and we came to pit road and came back,” Jones said. “We didn’t change anything, fired it up and went back. Got back on the lead, got caught up in a wreck and got pretty significant amount of damage and we were just trying to get it fixed enough to get minimum speed. As more of the race happened and more and more people wrecked, we found ourselves upfront. A day of never giving up and never giving in and it worked out great. It’s definitely the most perseverance I’ve had in a race in NASCAR. I had a lot of fun.”
Rounding out the top-five was Joey Logano and Michael McDowell. In a surprise move, in the closing laps, McDowell who drives a Ford, chose to draft with Busch instead of Logano who also pilots a Ford.
“I just told him that my team doesn’t pay me to push Joey Logano to a win,” McDowell said. “That’s not what I get paid to do. At 200 miles an hour I made a split-second decision on what was the fastest car and who had the best shot of winning the race and that’s where I went.”
Completing the top-10 on Sunday was Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Preece, Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain.
There were 12 cautions for 47 laps and two red flags throughout the 207-lap race.
The most notable caution came out on lap 192, when 21 cars piled up in Turn 3. The accident ignited when a bad bump draft from Paul Menard sent Matt DiBenedetto sideways in front of the field. DiBenedetto was having a career day as he led a race high of 49 laps. Prior to Sunday, DiBenedetto had only led 23 laps throughout his four previous seasons.
“It was just a racing deal,” DiBenedetto said. “Nothing intentional. I have a great relationship with Paul. I think he was trying to sneak to my outside but wasn’t quite there and when he bumped me it just clipped my right rear and turned me in the wall. Just a racing deal. Nothing we can do about it. We had one hell of a day going. I’ll tell you that.”
Following the 24:57 red flag, the caution quickly came out again on lap 196 for a seven-car accident in Turn 3. The track was cleaned up, but the field crashed again in Turn 3 on lap 200. This time, nine cars were involved, and the red flag was displayed for 14:41. The accident set the field up for the NASCAR Overtime finish.
Following the Daytona 500, Hamlin and Busch are tied for the top spot in the point standings.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, February 24 for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 that will broadcast live on FOX and the Performance Racing Network (PRN) at 2 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images