DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – The 62nd DAYTONA 500 resumed Monday afternoon at 4:05pm as if there was never a rain delay the night before.
Heading into the race, fans favored defending champion Denny Hamlin, Jimmy Johnson, Joey Logano or Kyle Busch for a win this year, but when the rubber hit the road, things looked quite different.
The Great American Race Resumes
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (#47 Kroger Chevrolet), who won the DAYTONA 500 pole last Sunday, Ryan Newman (#6 Koch Industries Ford) and Aric Almirola (#10 Smithfield Ford) led out in the top three. As the race progressed, Newman and Almirola switch places, but eventually Brad Keselowski (#2 Discount Tire Ford) took the lead in Stage 1.
In typical DAYTONA 500 fashion, some early aggression led to premature wrecks. William Byron (#24 Axalta Chevrolet), got knocked out first, losing control after getting bumped on his left side in Stage 1, which put him into the wall and ultimately out of the race.
Chase Elliott (#9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet) won Stage 1, and after a wreck in Stage 2 that took out Quin Houff (#00 Jacob Construction Chevrolet) and Keselowski, Denny Hamlin won Stage 2.
Stage 3: Wreck City
Stenhouse, who led for 24 laps in Stage 3, got a pass-through penalty for going below the double-yellow line, sending him to pit row, but that was just the start of his troubles.
With 27 laps to go, Erik Jones (#20 DEWALT Toyota) ran into Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., which caused his hood to fly up, totally blocking Stenhouse’s view. Fortunately, he made it pit road safely.
Lap 184 brought a massive multiple-car crash, drawing in final season NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson, dashing all hopes for him to snag a DAYTONA 500 win this season.
In the final three laps of the race, another trickle of individual wrecks stretched the race into overtime.
Tragic Crash in the Home Stretch
Denny Hamlin maintained a special discipline to dodge out every wreck in all three stages. With the final lap left, he made sure to block out Ryan Newman, who hot on his heels in second. Unfortunately, just seconds before Hamlin crossed the finish line and checkered flag, Newman was rear-ended and lost control of his car, smashing into the wall, then flipping over. To make matters worse, Cory LaJoie (#32 RagingBull.com Ford) clipped Newman while his car was in midair, causing the rear of the car to burst into flames.
While some fans may have issue with Hamlin’s team celebrating in Gatorade Victory Lane, Gibbs himself expressed his apologies to Ryan Newman both in Victory Lane and during the post-race press conference, admitting that he (Gibbs) and his team didn’t initially know how bad Newman’s injuries were.
Hamlin Joins an Honorable Few
Today’s win is Hamlin’s third career DAYTONA 500 victory, achieved only within the last five years. He is only the fifth driver to win three, joining the ranks of racing legends like Richard Petty. Gibbs was certainly grateful.
For Hamlin, the victory was bittersweet, given his longtime friendship with Newman. “A person’s health is more important than any victory,” Hamlin told the press at Victory Lane.
Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org