Hamlin Wins Action-Packed Daytona 500

Denny celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. [Chris Graythen/Getty Images]

Denny celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. [Chris Graythen/Getty Images]

By Joe Jennings

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin survived a number of wrecks and two red flags as the 61st Daytona 500 wound down, to win “The Great American Race” for the second time in four years.

Due to late race crashes, the race went into overtime, taking an extra seven laps to complete.

Before a sellout crowd and a nationwide television audience, the race started out in the sunshine and ended well after darkness had set-in.

Hamlin drove the FedEx Express to victory lane with teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones close on his heels, giving the acclaimed Joe Gibbs Racing team a 1-2-3 finish for only the second time has done so in history. In 1997, the Hendrick Motor Sports team did it for the first time.

And Hamlin became the 12th different driver to win multiple Daytona 500s. He also chalked up his 32nd career victory in 471 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

The winner dedicated the victory to the late J. D. Gibbs, the 49-year old son of team owner Joe Gibbs. The younger Gibbs passed away a month ago from a degenerative condition.

“This one is for J.D. We are desperately going to miss him the rest of our lies. His legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing and proud to do this for them,” Hamlin said in victory lane.

About new crew chief Chris Gabehart, Hamlin said, “He’s a short track racer. That’s what I love about him. He’s just got that short track mentality. Same as (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler). Wheels car ran pretty damn good today too.”

Regarding his second Daytona 500 win, Hamlin commented, “I don’t know. I’m just going to enjoy it more. I mean I think I was so dumbfounded about everything that happened the first time with the photo finish and everything. This one lets me soak it in a little bit more. I’m going to have a terrible hangover tomorrow, but I’m going to enjoy it the rest of my life.”

In describing the late-race maneuvers, Hamlin added, “They gave us the option there to just drop in front of Kyle and I thought that was the best idea to hopefully get one of the two of our cars in victory lane. 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.”

Joe Gibbs was highly emotional about the victory, saying, “This is the most emotional win I’ve ever had in my life. J. D. ran our operation for 27 years and when he met Denny, they hit it off from the beginning. J. D.’s favorite number was 11 when he raced, and Denny had J. D.’s name on the car.”

Behind the three front-running Toyota’s came the Ford’s of Joey Logano and Michael McDowell and the Chevrolet’s of Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson, rookie Ryan Preece, Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain.

Everyone thought the Ford camp would gang-up on the field when the race wound down, but only Logano and McDowell were competitive at that time and McDowell went with the Toyota’s, to Logano’s chagrin.

Said McDowell, “My team doesn’t pay me to push Joey Logano to a win. I made a split-second decision on what was the fastest car and that’s where I went.”

“I actually thought we had the car to beat and just couldn’t get it done,” commented Logano.

The first 400 miles was relatively tame but the final 100 miles had numerous wrecks, including an 18-car melee that brought out the first of two red flags with just 10 laps to go. Shortly thereafter, another multi-car wreck blocked the track, triggering another stoppage.

In total, a dozen caution flags slowed the race for 47 laps.

In the opening 60-lap stage, Kyle Busch took the honors and Ryan Blaney did the same in the next 60-lap run.

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