Hamlin takes the win in wreck-filled race: Daytona 500 Report

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin took his second Daytona 500 win in what proved to be a crash-strewn and highly attritional race. Hamlin was one of only three drivers to not be involved in any incidents at all, with the other two drivers being second-place finisher Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain, who finished in tenth. There were signs of trouble throughout the race, but ‘The Big One’ only came with nine laps left in the race, and, from there all hell broke loose!

Of the 22 cars running at the chequered flag, 14 were still on the lead lap, which is rather surprising given the sheer number of cars involved in one wreck or another. Before the Lap 191 monster wreck, there had already been a number of crashes, including one on pit road, in which the eternally unlucky Jimmie Johnson got caught up in, amongst others.

All in all, 21 cars were damaged in the biggest wreck, which was caused by Matt Di Benedetto, who had, up until then, been having a very good race, and Paul Menard, who was part of the cause in The Clash’s wreck last weekend. However, even after a crash that involved more than half the field, there was still more trouble to come…

In the last nine scheduled laps, there were two more cautions for two further wrecks – the latter of which pushed the race into overtime, just to get a result. But, after all that, it was Hamlin who kept it together and fended off teammate Kyle Busch for the win, despite a very close final lap and a late challenge from Joey Logano.

Hamlin didn’t, by any means, lead the most laps and he didn’t finish that high in either of the stages; he was down in 21st by the end of Stage 2, but that didn’t really matter by the end of the race. He played his cards better than teammate Busch in the final laps, correctly choosing the outside lane to take his first win in 47 races.

The race started very well for Kyle Busch who took the first stage win of the season, despite starting the race down in 31st position. By the end of Stage 2, the younger Busch brother had dropped to twelfth, but he made his comeback in the final stage and looked set to take his first ever Daytona 500 win before what proved to be the final restart. He was, however, outmanoeuvred by Hamlin, meaning Busch will have to wait another year to try and fill the Harley J. Earl Trophy sided gap in his trophy cabinet. 2020 will be Busch’s 15th attempt at the Daytona victory… who knows if he’ll finally be successful then!

Ryan Blaney was the man to take the Stage 2 victory, and he looked to be the class of the field for a long time, but, like so many others, it all came crashing down for him when he got caught up in The Big One and his #12 received terminal damage, forcing the Penske driver out of what could’ve been a very promising race.

Another driver who’s race turned into a story of what could’ve been was Johnson, suggesting that his luck has not turned for this season and taking his winning-less streak in points races up to 60 races. As was the case so many times last season, Johnson got caught up in a crash through no fault of his own, which subsequently compromised the rest of his race. The #48 Hendrick driver sustained a fair amount of damage in the pit road wreck, which was caused by Cody Ware spinning and hitting a line of slower moving cars who were coming into the pits. He also got tangled up in the Lap 191 wreck, eventually finishing the race in ninth place.

Last year’s Cup Champion, Joey Logano, looked to be in contention for the victory in the closing stages of the race but, after working so well with teammate Blaney throughout the race, he was hurt badly when he was left isolated after the wreck – meaning he couldn’t quite take it to the Joe Gibbs drivers, who were themselves working very well together. Erik Jones managed to sneak past Logano on the last lap, meaning the Penske driver finished the race in fourth – behind all three Joe Gibbs cars.

The 61st Daytona 500 was certainly a tale of two races, with the first 190 or so laps being fairly calm, by NASCAR’s standards at least, and the last ten (plus the six overtime laps) being absolute carnage; an hour passed between the yellow flag flying for The Big One and the chequered flag emerging, showing just how chaotic those last ten laps were!

But, after all that, it was Hamlin who came out victorious and he’s the only one who will have his name engraved onto the Harley J. Earl Trophy. NASCAR returns next weekend at Atlanta where Hamlin will be looking to make it two from two, and everyone else will be trying to stop him…

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 17: Denny celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Top Ten Finishers:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Erik Jones
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Michael McDowell
  6. Ty Dillon
  7. Kyle Larson
  8. Ryan Preece
  9. Jimmie Johnson
  10. Ross Chastain

Championship Standings:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
  5. Erik Jones

(Featured image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Daytona 500 Preview

After a week of qualifying, non-points races, duels and a fair few crashes, it’s finally time for the big one; the Daytona 500. At 7:30 pm GMT on Sunday, the 40-car field will take the green flag for the 61st running of the event – and what an event it promises to be!

Qualifying last Sunday only allocated the front row for the 500, with the Hendrick Motorsport duo of William Byron and Alex Bowman taking those two places. The rest of the grid was determined by Thursday’s two ‘Duel’ races, which both took place over 60 laps. Stewart-Haas’s Kevin Harvick took the win in the first race, giving him third on the grid, while Penske’s reigning champion, Joey Logano, won the second, placing him in fourth.

In some slightly unfathomable but typically NASCAR way, qualifying determined which duel each driver raced in, then the results of the Duel 1 decided the inside row of the grid and the results of Duel 2 did the same for the outside row.

Put simply, the top ten starters for the 500 are:

  1. William Byron
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  6. Clint Bowyer
  7. Paul Menard
  8. Aric Almirola
  9. Matt DiBenedetto
  10. Denny Hamlin

If you want to see where the other 30 drivers are starting from, click here.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

One driver who is starting out of the top ten is the winner of this year’s Daytona Clash, a certain Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick driver will be starting down in 17th after finishing in eighth in Duel 1, but his Daytona build-up has not been without incident. Luck was far from with Johnson last season as he seemed to spend more than his fair share of time in the wall and, for the majority of those incidents, he wasn’t to blame. During ‘The Clash’ Johnson was again involved in an incident, with all but three drivers in the 20-car field caught up in it. Many looked to blame Johnson for the wreck, which started with him and Menard coming together, but no official action was taken on it and Johnson was free to take the win.

As it was not for points, The Clash was seen as more of a test session by many teams, so the single-file train of cars seen during it shouldn’t be something that we see too much of during the 500.

Last year’s 500 winner, Austin Dillon, with start the race from 20th after finishing ninth in Duel 2, but given he started 14th last year, he shouldn’t be too fazed by that and will be looking to repeat his 2018 glory, though the other 39 drivers might just have something to say about that!

The 2019 Daytona 500 will get underway at 2:30 pm ET (7:30 pm GMT) on Sunday and will be broadcast on Fox in the States. In the UK, Premier Sports have the coverage, but if you don’t have access to that, there will be live timing on nascar.com and race commentary on our Twitter channel, so you won’t miss out on the action!

Let the season begin…

(Featured image credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR: Controversial Victory for the #3 at the Daytona 500

Despite the absence of long-time Most Popular Driver, the recently retired Dale Earnhardt Jr, the stands appeared densely packed for the 2018 Daytona 500. There was, of course, still an Earnhardt in the field, with Jeffrey Earnhardt ensuring the family name was represented for the 40th consecutive time in the Great American race. Dale Jr himself was the one to get the race started with the infamous words “drivers, start your engines.” But little did we know then that the eventual race winner would be none other than the car sporting Earnhardt Sr’s legendary no. 3.

Perhaps befitting the Earnhardt legacy, Austin Dillon’s win was nothing short of controversial, securing the win on the last lap by appearing to wreck the no. 10 car of Aric Almirola in front. Dillon’s wasn’t the only questionable move of the race, however, with a host of at-best opportunistic and at-worst dirty manoeuvres leading to big wrecks in the first two stages. As a catch-up for anyone who’s not watched NASCAR in a while, a reminder that since 2017, races have been split into three stages, with drivers able to collect points for each stage as well as for the overall result.

Stage One

Cars were running three and even four-wide at the outset, with Denny Hamlin’s no. 11 car looking comfortable in the lead. However, that all changed during the first caution, as Hamlin overshot his pit box, backing the car up, but not far enough, earning himself a 1 lap penalty. Meanwhile, the other big names were on the move, with Jimmie Johnson working his way quietly through the field in the no. 48 and Kyle Bush showing promise until he suffered a puncture in the no. 18. The young guns were well-represented early on, with Alex Bowman (no. 88), “Bubba” Wallace (no. 43) and Erik Jones (no. 20) running towards the front of the pack for much of the first stage. Stenhouse (no. 17) and Logano (no. 22) ran confidently up front as the stage progressed, with Chase Elliott on the charge in the no. 9 Chevrolet.

On the final lap of the stage, Ryan Blaney (no. 12) was blocked (by all accounts, pretty aggressively) by Stenhouse who then drifted up the track, causing Jones to get loose, and ultimately setting off a domino effect which eventually collected Suarez, Johnson, Larson and others, with Chase Elliott doing an impressive job to avoid it. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch (no. 41) remained out front as the drama unfolded behind him, earning him the first stage win of the season.

Stage Two

Kurt Busch started the second stage off with the same 1 lap penalty for a pit box violation that scuppered Hamlin’s hopes early on, while Hamlin himself was now back on the lead lap. Blaney and Bowman, both lucky to have avoided the wreck at the end of the first stage, led the field. The no. 24 car of William Byron brought out the caution with a puncture on lap 93, with reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr now leading the field after electing not to pit. Blaney (apparently feeling the force as a huge Star Wars fan) promptly took the lead back as the race returned to green.

With 18 to go in the stage, another big wreck unfolded, as Chase Elliott moved down the track to block Brad Keselowski in the no. 2, in a move which did neither of them any favours. Elliott’s no. 9 was sent spinning by the contact, eventually coming to a stop after collecting Kasey Kahne in the no. 9, and Danica Patrick in the no. 7, prematurely ending Patrick’s final Daytona 500.

With that wreck having depleted the field once again, the aggression died down a little, as Aric Almirola in the no. 10 and Wallace cleanly worked their way up in to the top 5, with Ryan Blaney eventually taking the second stage win in the no. 12 Penske.

Stage Three

Entering the final stage of the race, Blaney, Logano and Hamlin made up the top 3, and, with much of the field running single-file, things seemed to settle down somewhat, with cars pitting under the green flag with 43 laps remaining, and little drama of note, besides Kyle Busch adding to his difficult day with a penalty for speeding.

With 32 laps to go, the leaders hit traffic, but made it through cleanly, despite some wobbling from the lapped no. 1 car of Jamie McMurray. More pit stops under green followed, with Hamlin making a strategic error, pitting a lap later than the rest of the field, and Logano dropping a lap down after getting loose and speeding on pit road, earning himself a penalty. Following Hamlin’s stop, Blaney was now back in the lead, followed by Truex Jr and Kurt Busch.

After a surprisingly long green-flag period, Byron brought out the caution with 11 laps to go with a dramatic right-front tyre failure. Blaney, who by this point had led 118 laps, found himself crowded out and it looked as though he might drop way back in the pack, but he fought back up towards the front despite little help from those around him. The fight at the front was now heating up, with Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney all jostling for the lead.

Hamlin, now leading, blocked Kurt Busch, pushing him back towards Blaney. While it looked like the pair didn’t make contact, Kurt Busch spun, causing another big wreck, collecting Stenhouse, Truex and others. When the green flag waved once more, Almirola looked confident at the head of the field, clear of Hamlin and Dillon behind him. On the final lap, Dillon made what was to be the deciding move of the race, sending Almirola ungracefully into the wall and taking the win for himself. Meanwhile, Wallace and Hamlin fought tooth-and-nail for P2, with Bubba coming out on top in an incredibly close finish.

On his win, Dillon said that he had done what he had to do, while a devastated Almirola gave his opponent more credit than he perhaps deserved in his dignified post-race interview. While it might not have been the way it should have ended, there’s no denying that for many fans, there was a special kind of symmetry to seeing the no. 3 return to Victory Lane on the 20th anniversary of the late Dale Earnhardt’s win.

What did you think of Dillon’s move? Was it a step too far, or would any other driver have done the same?