Denny Hamlin wins Daytona 500 in 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing

Yahoo Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Denny Hamlin held on to the lead after a two-lap restart to win his second Daytona 500 and beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones to the finish.

The win comes in the first Cup Series race after JGR co-founder J.D. Gibbs’ death. J.D. Gibbs, the son of former Washington Redskins coach and team namesake Joe Gibbs, died in January at 49 after dealing with a neurological disease. J.D. Gibbs helped get Hamlin a ride at Joe Gibbs Racing and ran the No. 11, Hamlin’s number, during his own driving career.

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“This one’s for J.D.,” Hamlin said after climbing from the car. “We’re desperately going to miss him the rest of our lives.”

Joe Gibbs called it the most emotional win and the biggest of his career in sports, including his two Super Bowl titles with the Washington Redskins.

Hamlin restarted alongside Busch and cut ahead of him as the two cars tried to work together. Busch couldn’t get anyone lined up behind him to make a run at Hamlin as Joey Logano swiftly moved to third ahead of Michael McDowell. Jones, who restarted seventh, passed Logano for third just before the finish line.

A 21-car crash with less than 10 laps to go took out a host of contenders including Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Paul Menard and many others. DiBenedetto was getting a push from Menard at the front of the field but got turned around. That set off a chain reaction crash that ended up with David Ragan’s car pile-driven underneath the back of Almirola’s car for a brief moment.

DiBenedetto had led the most laps of any driver (49) until the crash.

A smaller wreck thinned the herd even further with less than six laps to go. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made an aggressive move on a blocking Kyle Larson that ended up sparking another multi-car crash.

And yet another crash took out even more cars with less than two laps to go. Clint Bowyer tried to make a pass on Michael McDowell but wasn’t clear when he moved across McDowell’s nose. That wreck took out Elliott (again), William Byron, Brad Keselowski and others.

First 1-2-3 team finish at Daytona in 22 years

JGR’s top-three sweep is the first time since the 1997 Daytona 500 that a team has taken the top three spots in NASCAR’s biggest race. The last team to do it was Hendrick Motorsports, which had teammates Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finish behind Jeff Gordon as Gordon won his second Daytona 500.

The victory also comes three years after Hamlin won his first Daytona 500. He beat Martin Truex Jr. to the line by inches in what is still the closest finish in Daytona 500 history. Coincidentally, Truex is now a Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Hamlin’s and was the only team car not to finish in the top three. He was collected in the 21-car crash and finished 35th.

Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP)
Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP)

Hamlin went winless in 2018

The 2018 season was Hamlin’s first winless season in the Cup Series. He still made the playoffs at the end of the season but was a non-factor for the championship and finished 11th in the points standings. It was his first full-season points finish outside the top 10 since 2007.

He said earlier in the week that he wanted to change the “narrative” that his team was on the decline. A Daytona 500 win is a good way to do that. The win automatically qualifies Hamlin for the 2019 playoffs and comes with new crew chief Chris Gabehart at the helm. Gabehart replaced Mike Wheeler, Hamlin’s crew chief for the past three seasons. Hamlin’s 2016 Daytona win was Wheeler’s first race as his crew chief.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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