The 2020 Daytona 500 began with rain and ended with carnage. After the intended start to the NASCAR Cup Series era was postponed from Sunday to Monday following twenty laps due to rain, Denny Hamlin scored his second straight 500 victory in scary circumstances as Ryan Newman was involved in a massive flip and wreck coming to the finish.
In his first race with JTG Daugherty Racing, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole alongside Alex Bowman. Tailing them were Bluegreen Vacations Duel winners Joey Logano and William Byron. Seven drivers were ordered to the rear: Hamlin (failed inspection multiple times), Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie (backup cars due to wrecks in the Duel), Brennan Poole (engine), Ty Dillon (gear change), B.J. McLeod (transmission), and Christopher Bell (unapproved adjustments).
Stenhouse led all twenty laps of Sunday green flag racing before the rain hit. Behind him, various drivers shuffled between positions. One notable gainer was Daytona 500 debutant Timmy Hill, who was tenth at the caution after starting thirty-second.
As the race resumed under yellow flag conditions, the field pitted in two waves. During the first cycle, Logano, who was second when it started raining, was the first to leave pit road, while Stenhouse fell to fourth. The Toyota drivers and some Fords like Michael McDowell, Cole Custer, and Clint Bowyer stayed out before pitting a lap later. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson, running his final 500, received the first penalty of the season for having too many crewmen over the wall. LaJoie was also penalised as a pit crewman crossed the pit wall too soon.
Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola led the field to the restart on lap 26. The field organised into manufacturer groups as Fords dominated the top ten (with the Chevrolet of Stenhouse the lone exception) with Chevrolet drivers in tow. The Toyota camp fell back, playing a conservative strategy to avoid potential chaos at the front.
The Chevrolets broke through with Chase Elliott leading the way on lap 48.
With seven laps remaining in the stage, Byron, running fourth, was clipped by Stenhouse, sending the #24 into the backstretch inside wall. During the caution, Kevin Harvick and the Toyota stable pitted for fuel.
“It’s unfortunate,” Byron said in his interview with Fox after being release from the infield care center. “I don’t know. I feel like there’s no reason on lap 56 to be that aggressive, moving across my bumper. It is what it is.”
“It amazes me that people don’t understand managing risk,” Cole Pearn, Martin Truex Jr.‘s crew chief until the end of 2019, tweeted. “Why risk crashing for a few stage points that won’t matter versus a chance to win the Daytona 500.”
Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Elliott and Johnson comprised the front row for the restart on lap 64. With Bowman’s support, Elliott maintained his lead en route to the stage win. Behind him were Bowman, Almirola, Logano, Johnson, Blaney, Stenhouse, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, and Ty Dillon.
Keselowski and six other drivers led the field off pit road as they only added fuel to their cars. Meanwhile, the Toyotas like Hamlin stayed out.
The second stage began on lap 72 with Hamlin and Cole Custer leading. After three laps of green-flag racing, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, including Leavine Family Racing ally Bell, occupied the top spots.
On lap 89, rookie Quin Houff made contact with Almirola and spun, collecting McLeod in the process. Harvick also suffered damage to his right rear in the contact, forcing him to pit.
The green flag waved on lap 96 with Hamlin leading. Erik Jones, who was in the top five early in the stage with his JGR team-mates, fell to twenty-first for the restart after issues on his stop. As the race approached the halfway point, Hamlin exceeded his laps led total from his 2019 Daytona 500 win at 30.
Hamlin led for the rest of the stage to the green-checkered flag. An attempted move by Stenhouse to pass the leader exiting turn four failed as Kyle Busch overtook him on the inside for second.
After the three were Truex, Ross Chastain, Johnson, Elliott, Blaney, Logano, and Buescher.
Between stages, Elliott’s crew lost a fuel can that Truex inadvertently hit, prompting him to pit again to observe for damage. Elliott suffered an equipment removal penalty for the incident.
Hamlin elected to restart on the outside line with Blaney next to him as the final stage commenced on lap 136. Blaney’s line pushed ahead, enabling Stenhouse to take the lead a lap later with a push by Chastain.
Stenhouse received a penalty for passing below the double yellow line and pitted on lap 163. At the front, Logano took the lead.
Logano led the first cycle of green-flag stops on lap 170, with a fourteen-driver group headed by Johnson staying out.
With 27 laps to go, Stenhouse was hit from behind by Jones as he prepared to pit, causing heavy damge to his hood though no caution was called. Johnson and company pitted shortly after, cycling Busch to the lead. Custer later exited the race after his car began smoking.
On lap 182, Busch fell off the pace with a tyre rub. Two laps later, the infamous Big One occurred when Almirola, pushed by Logano on the backstretch, tapped Keselowski from behind, sending the #2 into a spin. Bowman was hit by Almirola, while DiBenedetto was turned. Other drivers involved included Blaney, Chastain, Johnson, Truex, Kurt Busch, Justin Haley, Brendan Gaughan, Austin Dillon, David Ragan, John Hunter Nemechek, Tyler Reddick, and Bubba Wallace were all involved.
“The roulette wheel spins and it grabs your number,” Busch remarked in his Fox interview.
The red flag was waved to facilitate cleanup, lasting twelve minutes. Under caution, Harvick was the first to complete his stop. Busch retired from the race with an engine failure.
Newman and Bell led the grid to the restart with ten laps to go. A push from Logano on the outside put Newman ahead for the lead, while Bell received briefly help from Elliott. Bell was subsequently shuffled off the pace and out of the top ten.
After two laps under green, Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill—both non-chartered drivers who raced their ways into the 500 via Duel—wrecked as the former cut a tyre and slid up into Hill exiting turn two. Bowman also suffered damage.
The next restart took place with four laps remaining as Newman and Logano held the top two positions. A strong restart by Logano on the outside, receiving help from Larson, briefly gave him the advantage before Newman cleared him with Hamlin on the inside exiting turn two. The Newman/Hamlin pair quickly distanced themselves from the field with Ryan Preece leading the pack.
Newman shot past Newman to take the lead on the penultimate lap. In turn one, aggressive driving from Chastain led to contact with Preece. Chastain overcorrected as he tried to recover, sending him up the banking and collecting Preece, Elliott, Logano, Reddick, Bell, McDowell, and Ty Dillon.
Another red flag was called.
After the red flag was lifted, members of the Chevrolet contingent like Larson, Wallace, Elliott, and Austin Dillon pitted. Hamlin was isolated as the lone Toyota in the top twenty, surrounded by Fords with Haley the only Chevrolet in the top ten at the restart.
Hamlin chose to restart on the outside to prevent Roush Fenway Racing team-mates Buescher and Newman from drafting together. Coming to the green flag, McDowell was clipped by Bowyer who made contact with Haley, sending Bowyer and McDowell spinning through the tri-oval infield grass and triggering a second overtime attempt.
The final restart saw a Hamlin/Newman front row with Hamlin on the outside. Receiving a push from Blaney, Hamlin pulled ahead. Shortly after taking the white flag, Elliott was turned.
A strong push by Blaney propelled Newman past Hamlin for the lead on the backstretch. As they approached the finish, Newman was turned by Blaney and sent into a flip, followed by being impacted by LaJoie at high speed, causing the #7 to flip again. At the front, Hamlin edged out Blaney for the win.
“I think we take for granted how safe these cars are,” Hamlin commented in Victory Lane. “I’ve really worked well with Ryan this whole race […] I really don’t know what to say, it’s so unexpected.”
Newman was taken to Halifax Medical Center for treatment. Hours after the race, NASCAR and RFR released the following statement on Newman’s health:
“Ryan Newman is being treated at Halifax Medical Center. He is in serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life threatening. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers and ask that you respect the privacy of Ryan and his family during this time. We appreciate your patience and cooperation and we will provide more information as it becomes available.”