DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin gave Joe Gibbs Racing a sweep of both Budweiser Duels, driving his Toyota to victory in the second 150-mile qualifying race Thursday night for Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.
JGR teammate Matt Kenseth won the first Duel earlier in the evening.
Hamlin was first to the checkered flag in a race that finished with a massive crash behind him that saw six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson run out of gas before being clipped by Jamie McMurray. That led to a big multi-car crash that saw Clint Bowyer’s car flip completely over before landing on all four wheels. Also, two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip’s Toyota ran into the opening of the pit wall.
The crash was triggered when Johnson’s car slowed and Jamie McMurray’s car ran into the pack of his Chevrolet sending it crashing into the wall.
According to sources, Johnson was running out of fuel and that is why he slowed to cause the incident.
Hamlin finished the race as the winner just ahead of three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon’s Chevrolet. Kurt Busch was third in a Chevrolet followed by Paul Menard’s Chevrolet and Brian Scott’s Chevrolet in a race that officially ends under caution.
Casey Mears, who had to pit on the final lap because his car was out of fuel, was able to make it into the field by being on pit road and missing the big wreck. Landon Cassill was last driver to transfer into the field based on his ninth-place finish in the race.
Brad Keselowski led a 12-car breakaway after 27 laps in the 60-lap Duel that also included Edwards, Gordon, Bowyer and Kurt Busch.
Most of the field pitted with 24 laps to go with Keselowski getting right-side tires and Gordon fuel only. Keselowski was able to get off pit road ahead of Gordon but he was nailed for exceeding pit road speed, which meant pass-through penalty taking him out of contention for the victory. What made it ironic is Keselowski had the last pit stall on pit road but passed two cars on exit.
Keselowski brought the Ford down pit road with 21 laps to go and Hamlin was the leader head of Kurt Busch and Gordon. Keselowski, however, flat-spotted his tires as he hit pit road and had a flat-tire with 20 laps left in the race.
That sent the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion dropping from first to last in the 24-car field.
A full report will be available shortly.