DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Sunday’s 61st annual Daytona 500 went about as opposite as we’d thought it would. All week, we were told how dominant the Ford camp was going to be and how most of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season opener would be a follow the leader parade.
Instead, it was anything but.
Ford drivers only led 40 of the 207 laps run and had just two drivers finish in the top 11. The Toyota camp proved to actually be the ones to beat.
Toyota drivers led a combined 116 laps with Joe Gibbs Racing finishing 1-2-3. It was the first time since Hendrick Motorsports accomplished that very same feat in 1997.
In the end, it came down to a final restart of Denny Hamlin and his teammate Kyle Busch. Hamlin, got a great restart and held off a furious charge from Busch and Joey Logano to claim his second Daytona 500 triumph, becoming just the 12th driver to ever do so. It also ended a 46 race winless streak for Hamlin as the Virginia native went all last season and all of the 2017 Cup Series playoffs without a victory. The win was his 32nd of his Cup career, tying him with Dale Jarrett for 24th ever.
Hamlin and Busch combined to lead the final 37 laps as Hamlin took over the lead on Lap 170. Busch, got by him on Lap 190 and would lead until Hamlin got by him on the Daytona Superstretch just prior to the nine car accident in Turn 3.
Busch, had to settle for second in his No. 18 Toyota while a third JGR car in Erik Jones rebounded from a fuel pickup problem to finish third in his No. 20 Toyota.
JGR and Toyota have now won two straight Cup races on the 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway with Jones winning his first and only Cup race in last July’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.
Hamlin gave Toyota their second Daytona 500 win, both coming via his No. 11 Toyota.
It was a fitting end too because of a long offseason that JGR endured. The team lost J.D. Gibbs a little over a month ago which caused great sadness in the organization. Gibbs’ favorite number was 11 and it was Hamlin and his No. 11 Toyota reaching victory lane. It was also that 1-2-3 finish to give the organization a reason to celebrate as a whole.
The win didn’t come easy either. On the Lap 190 melee in Turn 3, it took out some strong Toyota’s. Martin Truex Jr. was collected as was Matt DiBenedetto. The Leavine Family Racing driver led a race-high 49 laps on Sunday and was going to be a big help for Hamlin and Busch in the end. After that crash, the only cars left behind Busch and Hamlin were the Ford’s and Chevy’s.
But, due to two more crashes taking a lot of the field out, all they had to do was really hold off themselves. Only three of the 40 starters leave Daytona without damage and two of which are Hamlin and Busch.
That’s how Jones rebounded to a top five finish.
Hamlin, has five top four finishes in his last six Daytona 500 starts. Busch, earned his first top five finish at Daytona since 2016.
Joey Logano finished fourth in his No. 22 Ford for his fifth straight top six finish in the Great American Race while Michael McDowell rounded out the top five in his No. 34 Ford.
Ty Dillon led the Chevy charge with a career best sixth place finish in his No. 13 Chevrolet.
The race was thrilling for most of the way with side-by-side restrictor plate races for most of the action packed event. From the drop of the green flag through Lap 172, we saw just six cautions. But, over the next 25 laps, we’d see six cautions, two of which resulting in long red flags taking out 18 cars on Lap 190, seven more on Lap 194 and finally nine on Lap 198.
Daytona 500 Results
47 Preece R
17 Stenhouse Jr.
96 Kligerman -2
3 ADilon -2
9 Elliott OUT
32 LaJoie -7
51 McLeod -7
14 Bowyer OUT
24 Byron OUT
40 McMurray OUT
62 Gaughan OUT
00 Cassill OUT
1 KuBusch OUT
4 Harvick OUT
31 Reddick OUT
95 DiBenedetto OUT
21 Menard OUT
38 Ragan OUT
12 Blaney OUT
10 Almirola OUT
41 Suarez OUT
8 Hemric R OUT
19 Truex Jr. OUT
36 Tifft R OUT
37 Buescher OUT
43 Wallace Jr. OUT
52 Ware R OUT
27 MEars OUT