Last week, Denny Hamlin couldn’t come up with the names of drivers who have won three Daytona 500s. He did know that winning three would put him in “very, very elite” company.
Welcome to very, very elite company, Mr. Hamlin.
Thanks to rain on Sunday, it took two days to get it but on Monday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver won NASCAR’s most important event for a third time.
The victory gave Hamlin two straight wins at Daytona International Speedway and his third in the last five years. He joined Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) as back-to-back winners of the 500.
And it gave him his 38th Cup victory in 507 starts and, perhaps, a foot in the door at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
To get it all, Hamlin had to survive a final 30 laps that featured several huge wrecks on the high banks of the 2.5-mile track, the last of which sent the event into double overtime.
Ryan Blaney of Team Penske finished second, Chris Buescher of Roush Fenway Racing finished third.
Rounding out the top five were David Ragan of Rick Ware Racing and Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Hamlin had the lead for the final, second-overtime restart of the day. After the green flag dropped, he got a push from Blaney. A lap later. Blaney pushed Newman to the lead. As the field headed toward the finish line, Newman was bumped by Blaney and spun out and Hamlin snuck into the lead and took the checkered flag.
Newman’s Roush Fenway Ford was hit by Corey LaJoie’s Ford and flew in the air and landed on its top. The car burst into flames and skidded across the finish line upside down.
Newman, who finished ninth, was removed from the car and placed in an ambulance and taken to a local hospital. There was no immediate word on the severity of his injuries.
The race proceeded calmly until there were just 19 laps to go. That’s when a big wreck took a number of top competitors out of the race. The wreck occurred when Joey Logano, whose aggressive driving has caused several controversial incidents in recent years, pushed Aric Almirola into the rear end of Brad Keselowski, who is Logano’s Team Penske teammate.
The wreck brought out the red flag for a lengthy cleanup.
Among those who had shots at victory erased by the wreck were Keselowski, Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson.
A couple more late-race wrecks eliminated more contenders.
Seven-time Cup champion and two-time 500 winner Johnson drove well in what could be his final race at Daytona. He had a fast car all day and had the lead for a number of laps late in the race.
Kyle Busch, the two-time Cup champion whose only resume hole is the lack of a 500 victory, was leading just prior to the big wreck but saw his day ruined by a blown engine. “Sucks to be in that conversation,” Busch said of being a multi-time champ who has not won The Biggie.
The race started on Sunday but a series of rain storms forced postponement to Monday after 20 laps had been run.