Denny Hamlin goes it alone and still manages to win Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —
Denny Hamlin’s second straight win in the Daytona 500 was an even greater accomplishment than it looked. He did it seemingly by himself.
NASCAR has evolved into a sport in which teammates help each other and even other cars from the same manufacturer come to the aid of a driver by pushing his car forward. Who is behind you is just as important as who is in front of you.
As the race was coming to an end, Hamlin was the only Toyota followed by a bunch of Fords.
“We’re defying odds,” Hamlin said. “We were obviously low on numbers there. There were just so many Fords, I knew that at the end of these races, people want to win for themselves. Alliances and all sound really, really good at the beginning, but in the end, it’s the Daytona 500 and we want to do everything we can to win. … We just ended up on the right side of it.”
The Toyotas used a strategy that at first seemed strange but then showed how it was going to work. NASCAR races are run in stages — Daytona was 65, 65 and 70 laps — with points being awarded after every stage. In the first stage, the Toyotas all ran at the back of the pack, showing no sign of wanting to engage. But a few well-timed pit stops put them in perfect position to go to the front at the start of the second stage.
“We had a great strategy there at the end of Stage 1 to put us up front at the beginning into Stage 2,” Hamlin said. “And I was able to kind of maintain good track position at that point and obviously got shuffled [near the end]. But it worked out.”
Hamlin led 79 of the 209 laps. Brad Keselowski was in front for 30, pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for 24 and Chase Elliott for 23.
“It’s harder to win today than ever because all the cars are so close together and with the attrition, the wrecks,” Hamlin said. “It’s harder to win now than ever. To win [Daytona] again, I don’t know. You’re going to have to check in with me next week in Las Vegas.”
The third stop on the circuit is at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Another ‘L’ for Busch
Kyle Busch may be the reigning Series champion but he still hasn’t won the Daytona 500. Monday was his 15th try. He was leading when he developed engine problems with 17 laps to go before what was supposed to be the finish.
His teammate Hamlin winning was little consolation.
“I really hate it for my guys and I really hate it for Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “We’ll just keep figuring out ways to lose.”
Busch finished 34th. Dale Earnhardt, seven-time Series champion, didn’t win Daytona until his 20th try.
Johnson’s last Daytona 500
Jimmie Johnson, running his last Daytona 500 before retiring, flirted near the front but got collected in a wreck that involved 19 cars on Lap 185. He finished 35th.
“It’s been really a cool race to be a part of,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited about the races ahead of us. [Crew chief] Cliff Daniels did a great job leading this team, full support from Hendrick Motorsports, my family, my friends, my fans. I’m just very thankful for all of that. We didn’t get to Victory Lane today but I’m ready to get to Vegas and get to work out there.”