Denny Hamlin Wins Second Daytona 500


William Byron started the Daytona 500 at the front of the field, but Denny Hamlin led the field to the checkered flag. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Griffin LaMarche

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, became a two-time Daytona 500 champion on Sunday night. Hamlin bested teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones, as well as Joey Logano and Michael McDowell, in a two-lap shoot-out after multiple wrecks in the final 20 miles of the 500-mile spectacle. All eyes were on Hamlin, who broke a 47-race winless streak after going without a single victory in 2018.

The race began with 21-year old William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro, on the pole alongside teammate Alex Bowman. Both drivers recently joined legendary team Hendrick Motorsports in 2018 to join seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and 2014 Xfinity Series Champion Chase Elliott. Although it was Byron and Bowman starting the race, it was Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #95 ProCore Toyota Camry, who stole the show. DiBenedetto, coming from Go FAS Racing, joined Leavine Family Racing alongside a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. With these new resources and a new team, DiBenedetto went on a tear to lead the most laps with 49 of the 200. Although DiBenedetto ran up front in contention all night, an 18-car wreck on lap 190 took him out of the race. Other cars taken out of contention included Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola.

The race was decided in overtime after two red flags due to three crashes in the last 10 laps. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch won the race off pit road at lap 164 after Hamlin opted to take no tires, shooting him from 18th to 2nd in a race-winning gamble. Though Kyle Busch had the lead on lap 191, Denny Hamlin was able to grab the lead by a couple inches by the time the caution on lap 199 came out, giving Hamlin the lead on the last restart. When the green flag dropped for the last time, Hamlin shot ahead of Michael McDowell and quickly dropped in front of teammate Kyle Busch. Although Kyle Busch and Joey Logano seemed to be the strongest two cars in the field, their refusal to work together against Hamlin and tussles with McDowell, Jones and Ryan Preece prevented them from besting Hamlin. Joe Gibbs racing ended up finishing the race 1-2-3 with Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones, only the second time in history one organization finished in the top three spots, following Hendrick Motorsports in 1997.

Denny Hamlin won his second Daytona 500 and team owner Joe Gibbs took home his third, and perhaps most emotional, win. The victory was dedicated to Joe Gibbs’ late son JD Gibbs, former co-owner of Joe Gibbs Racing after passing from complications of a degenerative neurological disease last month. Joe Gibbs called the Daytona 500 the “biggest win I’ve ever had in my life.”