The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season kicked off with the Great American Race: the Daytona 500. As NASCAR’s crown jewel event and one of the circuit’s most unpredictable races, the 2019 500 saw battles throughout, eventually culminating in a chaotic final ten laps with multiple wrecks. Once the dust settled, the Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones were leading the way to victory. For Hamlin, he ended his 47-race dry spell.
At a combined 46 years of age and average of 23, Hendrick Motorsports team-mates William Byron and Alex Bowman formed the youngest front row in race history. Behind them were Gander RV Duel winners Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, while Jamie McMurray (sixteenth), Kyle Larson (twenty-fifth), and Casey Mears (fortieth) were ordered to the rear for rear gear (McMurray) and transmission changes.
Byron led on the outside lane with Bowman’s drafting help for three laps before Ricky Stenhouse Jr., pushed by Matt DiBenedetto, took the lead on the inside. When Stenhouse committed to the outside, DiBenedetto maintained his stance to pull into first. The two eventually switched lanes, with Stenhouse’s inside driving forward as DiBendetto fell.
Green flag pit stops opened on lap 17 as DiBenedetto and his line stayed out. Three laps later, Corey LaJoie cut his tire and suffered fender damage, bringing out the caution. Those who did not pit under green took the opportunity to do so under yellow.
The race resumed on lap 25 with Stenhouse leading. On lap 49, Kurt Busch got loose while racing Stenhouse, sending him into a spin; Darrell Wallace Jr. suffered the same fate while competing with Tyler Reddick, getting sideways before colliding with Busch. Austin Dillon spun to avoid the wreck but did not suffer damage. The leaders pitted during the ensuing yellow flag, with Matt Tifft exiting the pits first.
After staying out under yellow, Kyle Busch and Hamlin led the field to the lap 53 restart. Busch would win the stage ahead of Bowman, Logano, Daniel Suárez, Ryan Blaney, Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Larson, Kevin Harvick, and Jones.
As they had pitted during the previous caution, 13 drivers elected to not do so, while Busch pitted to restart sixteenth; DiBenedetto was the first to leave pit road.
Stage #2 began on lap 66 with Logano and Suárez leading. 14 laps later, the Ford-dominated leaders pitted, allowing Daniel Hemric to briefly hold first before DiBenedetto went ahead. On pit road, Paul Menard and David Ragan were penalised for speeding, while Kurt Busch had to pit again for further repairs; his day worsened as the stage wore on, receiving another black flag for damage.
The new leaders, DiBenedetto and Kyle Busch led the 500 front row of Byron and Bowman as the field began to separate into single-file packs, with the lead pack of six drivers consisting of only Toyotas and Chevrolets. The second pack, led by the Ford of Suárez, was over 20 seconds behind. As the race’s laps passed the triple-digit mark, DiBenedetto and Busch began to slip into the pack of lapped cars.
On lap 106, Mears and Parker Kligerman wrecked in turn one to bring out the yellow flag, the perfect time for the leaders — who were on older tyres — to pit. A slow stop dropped DiBenedetto to fourth as Busch took the lead ahead of Byron.
Blaney and Brad Keselowski stayed out to occupy the front row as the green flag waved with nine laps to go. Ryan Preece, in his first race with JTG Daugherty Racing, ran as high as third before being shuffled out of the top ten. With DiBenedetto’s help, Byron propelled to second behind Blaney, who scored the stage win. Behind him were Aric Almirola, Keselowski, Stenhouse, DiBenedetto, Harvick, Suárez, Jimmie Johnson, and Logano.
With Byron and Almirola comprising the top two, the final stage commenced on lap 126. With Harvick drafting him, Byron retained the lead as the top cars ran single file.
On lap 145, Johnson, pushed by Harvick, caught up to Byron, receiving a push from Stenhouse, in a duel between Hendrick team-mates. Ten laps later, the green flag pit cycle with Richard Childress Racing‘s Brendan Gaughan and Austin and Ty Dillon. Moments later, as they prepared for their stops, the Rick Ware Racing duo of B.J. McLeod and Cody Ware spun, McLeod collecting Reddick, Stenhouse, and Johnson on pit road, while Ware slid into the tri-oval grass.
“Tough end to the day, the #51 & I were staying out, not pitting,” Ware tweeted. “I wasn’t aware that the leaders were coming to pit road. Got into my teammate as he checked up”.
The leaders pitted during the ensuing caution, with much of them changing two tyres; after his stop, Kyle Busch gained four spots to be the first off pit road, while Hamlin jumped up six positions to follow him. Truex and Ryan Newman received speeding penalties. Johnson was penalised for improperly fueling, while Austin Dillon had too many crewmen over the wall.
McMurray led the grid to the lap 169 restart. He battled Hamlin for the position until the latter received help from Joe Gibbs Racing team-mates Busch and Jones.
A caution came out for debris on lap 174, which drivers like Logano and Elliott used to pit. Racing resumed shortly after with Busch and Hamlin on the front row, the latter quickly taking the lead.
With 20 laps remaining, Larson cut his left-rear tyre and spun on the apron, sliding up the turn three banking and hitting the wall. Another single-car incident took place seven laps later with Keselowski losing his left-rear tyre and spinning as he exited turn four.
The next restart took place with ten laps to go, but racing only lasted one lap when the infamous Big One struck. While drafting him, Menard inadvertently turned DiBenedetto as they entered turn four; DiBenedetto spun and collected Logano, Blaney, Almirola, Reddick, Suárez, Newman, Truex, Dillon, Matt Tifft, and David Ragan. Almirola’s car briefly went airborne before landing on Ragan. The carnage resulted in the red flag, during which Hemric was parked for driving under such conditions.
“That was the most amazing and heartbreaking day all at the same time,” DiBenedetto tweeted; the accident ended a strong debut race in Leavine Family Racing‘s #95, during which he led a race-high 49 laps. “Thank you all so much for the support! I am so lucky to be a part of this team”.
After a 25-minute delay, the yellow flag came out to set up the green flag with six laps left. However, it was again short lived as Stenhouse attempted to squeeze between Larson and Harvick on the backstretch, which ultimately backfired as he triggered a wreck that dragged in Elliott, Keselowski, Bowman, and Ty Dillon. Preece successfully dodged the chaos to continue.
Another green flag attempt came on lap 198, but once again resulted in carnage when Bowyer was passing Michael McDowell, only to not be clear of the latter’s front bumper and was clipped, turning him. Bowyer slammed into Byron, who in turn was hit by Elliott, while McMurray and Johnson made contact. As Byron slid, Landon Cassill could not dodge him and T-boned the #24, while Gaughan and Keselowski were also involved. Again, Preece was able to avoid the wreck. As a result, a second red flag was waved. 14 minutes later, it was raised.
Overtime and finish
In overtime, Hamlin held off his JGR team-mates and charges by Logano and Preece to score his second Daytona 500 win. Busch and Jones finished behind him to lock out the podium positions. It is Hamlin’s first Cup win since Darlington Raceway in 2017, snapping a 47-race winless streak.
For Hamlin, the victory holds emotional substance. JGR co-owner and close friend J.D. Gibbs died in January, with Hamlin’s #11 being Gibbs’ number when he was a college football player; his car also features Gibbs’ name on the nameplate. On lap 11, the JGR teams stood along the pit wall to honour Gibbs.
“What happened here is really unreal,” Joe Gibbs said in a Fox interview after the race. “I’m just thrilled. I think J.D. had the best view of everything.”
“[The Gibbs family] has done so much for me over the course of my career,” Hamlin said. “This one’s for J.D., we’re definitely going to miss him the rest of our lives, but his legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing and I’m proud to do this for them.”
On Twitter, Hamlin posted:
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) February 18, 2019