Daytona 500 Recap
The Great American Race was postponed for the first time in history thanks to heavy rains that swept across Daytona International Speedway on Sunday. When the track was finally dry the result was a Monday night primetime event that certainly didn’t lack any of the excitement that has come to be expected from the Daytona 500.
When it ended in the early morning hours on Tuesday, Denny Hamlin would lead Joe Gibbs Racing with a fourth-place finish, while Joey Logano took the checkered flag in ninth and Kyle Busch came home in 17th. All three JGR entries were able to escape any major damage while avoiding several wrecks and fortunately all were well clear of the night’s most frightening accident on lap 160, when Juan Pablo Montoya collided with one of the track’s jet dryers under caution creating a massive explosion. Fortunately no one was injured, but the race was delayed more than two hours while crews made repairs to the track.
It certainly appeared that Denny Hamlin was in prime position to win his first Daytona 500 as he piloted the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota to the front of the field on numerous occasions to lead a race-high 57 laps. Starting from the 31st position Hamlin and the FedEx team would use some early pit strategy and fast racing to move to the front of the pack to lead 27 laps through the early going. At the midpoint of the race Hamlin would show what his car could do in a two-car tandem when he pushed Martin Truex, Jr. to the top spot. Then, just a lap later, he would drop back and do the same with Tony Stewart. This time however, Hamlin would move around Stewart to regain the lead and he would remain in the top spot for several laps that followed. Hamlin would remain in the top five the rest of the way and was in fourth on the final restart. Unfortunately Hamlin wasn’t able to find a partner to tandem race for the green-white-checker finish. The result was an impressive run and a fourth-place finish.
Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in 12th and as he had all week long, raced at the front of the pack for much of the race. Logano managed to deftly steer clear of several accidents over the course of the night and his patience paid off on lap 143 when he took the lead in the 54th-running of the Daytona 500. Although the pack racing would shuffle the top positions on track, Logano managed to remain near the front of the field for the remainder of the race. He was unable to move out of the traffic on a final green-white-checker restart however and was left with a strong and career-best Daytona 500 finish of ninth.
Kyle Busch, who captured the season opening Bud Shootout All-Star Race a week prior to the Daytona 500, started the No. 18 M&Ms Brown Toyota in 14th and was patient through the early going while avoiding several of the night’s early accidents. Trouble would finally find Busch while he raced inside the top 10 on lap 198 as he was clipped from behind and sent spinning. Busch did a masterful job of keeping his M&M’s car off the wall and brought his car to pit road with minimal damage for fresh tires. He was 16th on the final two-lap green-white-checker restart, but the track position proved too difficult to overcome as he was unable to make his way through traffic to gain position. Busch would go on to finish the night in the middle of the pack in 17th place.
Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was second, Greg Biffle third, Hamlin fourth, and Jeff Burton rounded out the top five. There were 10 caution periods for 42 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 202-lap race, which was extended two laps past its originally scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season heads west next week to Phoenix, AZ for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway next Sunday, March 3 at 3 PM. Fox will provide live high-definition coverage of the race starting at 2 PM ET. Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 and MRN Radio will also provide live coverage.