There is something about the Daytona 500 that makes it the ultimate paradox of human triumph and suffering. Some of the greatest drivers ever, such as Richard Petty, who won seven Daytona 500’s, and Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon, who both won three, were more on the triumph side of things than other elite talents, such as Dale Earnhardt Sr., who went winless in the Daytona 500 for two decades before he finally broke through and won in 1998.
Stories of young and relatively unknown racers (Trevor Bayne) winning Nascar’s Super Bowl have become part of Daytona lore, as has the untimely deaths of NASCAR legends Dale Sr. and Neil Bonnett. The 2019 Daytona 500 made true racing fans from coast to coast feel a sense of gratification as Denny Hamlin won his second career Daytona 500.
Over the course of the offseason in 2018, NASCAR lost two pioneers with the passing of Glen Wood and JD Gibbs. Wood passed away in January at the age of 92, however the son of NASCAR champion owner and NFL Super Bowl winning coach Joe Gibbs passed away at the age of 49 after a prolonged battle with a neurological disease.
Gibbs drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones delivered a touching tribute to the former Gibbs Racing president, as they finished the race in that order after a lengthy red flag forced a green-white-checkered finish. Only 14 cars finished on the lead lap after several different incidents wiped out many competitors, including former Stewart-Haas teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, and 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr.
In the mass of ensuing calamity that emerged late in the race, several young or unknown drivers emerged with strong runs after the mayhem was sorted out during the tedious red flag period. Two-time XFINITY winner Ryan Preece registered his first-career top 10 with an eighth place finish, as did part-time Monster Energy Cup driver Ross Chastain. Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell also had solid nights with fifth and sixth place finishes, respectively.
Kyle Busch started in 31st place, but was able to swiftly maneuver his way through the crowded pack and win the first stage ahead of Alex Bowman and Joey Logano. Team Penske phenom Ryan Blaney won the second stage with William Byron following close behind. Byron would become a victim of the late-race crash known as “the big one,” and as such, it set the scene for a Joe Gibbs two-lap shootout.
Hamlin, the 2016 Daytona 500 winner, was able to hold the bottom line and block runs from Kyle Busch and Joey Logano en route to his second win at Daytona. The younger Busch wasn’t able to get much of a run on the last lap, settling for second place. With the results of today’s race, Busch remains winless in the Daytona 500 in 14 full-time seasons on the cup circuit.
Despite the strong efforts of Hamlin, Busch and Jones, new Gibbs driver Martin Truex Jr. had a day to forget, as a wreck on lap 190 relegated the 2018 championship runner-up to a 38th-place finish.
For a good portion of the race, Matt DiBenedetto controlled the point, finishing the race as the driver who led the most laps at 49. The Leavine Family Racing driver was looking for a night to remember for him and the small Leavine operation, however he, like so many other competitors, fell victim to the massive wreck on lap 190.
As the track fell silent until July, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano emerged as the leaders in the standings with 52 points apiece. Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse and Erik Jones round out the top five in points after Daytona.
DiBenedetto, Byron and other drivers who had quick cars will be looking for redemption when they take the asphalt once again next Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.