In the end it was the Toyota’s who stole the big show. After a speedweeks filled with Ford and Chevy’s leading the way, it was a Toyota Camry in victory lane after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 Sunday night.
It what might be considered near divine intervention, Denny Hamlin led a Joe Gibbs Racing trio in NASCAR’s biggest race surviving 12 caution flags, 2 red flags and winning his second Daytona 500 by .138 of a second.
Hamlin held the lead on a green-white checkered flag overtime finish after the race’s second red flag period of just over 14 minutes and kept his JGR teammate Kyle Busch at bay to break a 47-race winless streak dating back to 2017.
“We had to take no tires there on the second to last stop just to get our track position back,” Hamlin said. “We had a little bit older tires than the other guys, but I knew that it was the right call because track position was going to mean the most for us. As the track cooled, the tires weren’t going to mean as much. It was definitely the right decision for us.”
The win was made even more emotional as it was the first for the team since J.D. Gibbs, son of team owner Joe Gibbs passed away at age 49 last month.
“We have his whole family here,” Hamlin said. “He meant a lot to me and it’s hard for me not getting choked up because I’ve been choked up about 100 times about it. Just to have Melissa (Gibbs) and all the kids here, it’s just crazy. Joe and his whole family and what they’ve done for my career – to bring them back to victory lane again is just amazing.”
After a week filled with single file racing and domination by first Chevy who took the top two spots in qualifying last Sunday along with a win in the Clash, and Ford who took the top three spots in each of the Duels Thursday night and racing that as mostly single file, Sunday’s race was filled with unexpected pack racing and with Toyota in the winner’s circle.
Hamlin led 30 laps overall and was able to avoid some of the carnage that took out many in the closing stages of the race including a 21-car melee on lap 192 that forced a 24:57 minute red flag and took out such favorites as polesitter William Byron, Ryan Blaney and surprise driver Matt DiBenedetto who led a race high 49 laps only to see his storybook ending fall apart with 8 laps to go.
A second accident on the restart took out 9 cars including former Daytona winner Kevin Harvick and forced another red flag, this one for just over 14 minutes that set up the green-white-checkered flag finish and ended with Hamlin celebrating.
Behind Hamlin and Busch, Erik Jones who had suffered damage in the late race accidents made a late charge to grab third, while Joey Logano came home fourth, Michael McDowell also avoided the carnage to finish fifth.
Ty Dillon was sixth, Kyle Larson, who had spun earlier, recovered for seventh with Ryan Preece, Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain rounding out the top 10.
Kyle Busch won the first stage, Ryan Blaney the second.
The series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second race of the season next Sunday.