DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 for the second year in a row Monday in a race that ended in horrifying fashion when Ryan Newman’s Ford flipped violently as the field raced towards the checkered flag.
Newman’s car landed on its hood and was hit in the drivers side by Corey LaJoie’s car, sending Newman’s car skidding down the frontstretch. Newman’s car began to leak gasoline out of the crumpled tank while it was upside down with the driver trapped inside.
Hamlin defeated Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney in the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history. The margin of victory was .014 of a second. It was Hamlin’s third Daytona 500 victory.
Chris Buescher was third, followed by David Ragan and Kevin Harvick.
After the race had concluded, the AMR Safety Crew was able to turn over Newman’s Ford before attempting to extricate the 2008 Daytona 500 winner. He was removed from the car and was taken directly to nearby Halifax Health, where it was later revealed he was in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries.
Victory lane was subdued as the grim events were being played out by safety workers on the frontstretch. The view to Newman’s Ford was being screened off to hide it from the crowd.
“We take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are,” Hamlin said. “We’re praying for Ryan. We worked really well with Ryan through the race and he got turned around there. I knew they were going to come with a big run there. My job was to put a block that wasn’t going to wreck me.
“The race wasn’t over, and it worked out well for us at the end.”
Hamlin is the first driver since Sterling Marlin to win back-to-back Daytona 500s (1994-95).
With four laps to go until the scheduled 200-lap distance, Newman was in the lead followed Hamlin, who had pushed Newman and himself out in front of the field. The field scrambled down the backstretch with Hamlin closing to the back of Newman’s bumper with three to go.
Hamlin went high coming out of turn four and took the lead before another big crash in turn one after Ross Chastain got down on the apron and slammed into the outside wall. Ryan Preece, Christopher Bell and Joey Logano’s cars were among those involved in the crash.
The first attempt at overtime came unraveled before it ever started when Michael McDowell, Justin Haley and Bowyer all collided heading to the green flag.
That led to another overtime restart and Hamlin was able to maintain his lead with a push from Ryan Blaney. However, he got too far ahead of the field on the final lap, opening the door for those behind him to take advantage.
That’s exactly what Newman and Blaney did. With Newman leading and Blaney pushing, the duo blew by Hamlin down the backstretch, with Newman taking the lead. Hamlin blended in right behind Blaney and began pushing him, giving Blaney a big run coming out of turn four.
Blaney first when high, then low to try and pass Newman, who blocked both moves. Blaney then bumped Newman, which sent him turning right into the outside wall. Hamlin narrowly avoided Newman’s car and beat Blaney in a drag race to the checkered flag.
Prior to that, it was setting up to be a fantastic finish before a massive crash 16 laps from the scheduled 200-lap distance. It came on lap 184 when Logano attempted to bump draft Aric Almirola’s Ford in a large pack on the backstretch. That contact knocked Almirola’s Ford into the back of Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, turning Keselowski’s Ford into the wall in front of the rest of the field.
“He hit me, and I spun out,” Keselowski said. “There was a lot of kinetic energy there. I put myself in the position for that. It was a really good effort. We led a lot of laps and was in position at the end. I knew the 10 was coming and the 6 (Newman) threw a pretty good block. When you have three or four of them, it causes a pretty big wreck.”
That triggered a massive crash in turn three that included many of the leading contenders for victory. Others involved including seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Ty Dillon, Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Brendan Gaughan, David Ragan and John Hunter Nemechek.
On lap 185, NASCAR officials displayed the red flag, stopping the race and cutting the field in half.
“We were all racing hard,” Busch said. “On the inside lane, lady luck was not on my side. Boom, there it goes on the Roulette Wheel and it didn’t come up my number.”
The red flag was rescinded after 12 minutes and five seconds.
The dramatic segment that determined the race began on a lap 191 restart with Newman leading Bell, Elliott and Logano.
Earlier in the race, pole winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who led 23 laps and ran much of Monday’s race in second place in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet, dove low down the backstretch on lap 158. Stenhouse’s Chevrolet dropped below the double-yellow line trying to pass Kyle Busch and was penalized by NASCAR officials for passing below the boundary. He served a drive-through penalty on lap 164.
On lap 171, most of the field pitted under the green except for 11 Chevrolets, who took over positions 1-11. Stenhouse was tagged by Erik Jones coming out of turn four and crashed on lap 173, but NASCAR did not call for the caution since Stenhouse was able to retreat down pit road.
One lap later, the Chevrolets pitted together, Bowman first of the Chevrolet teams out of pits followed by Johnson. Both packs have closed in on each other with 20 to go. Three laps later, Kyle Busch’s engine experienced issues and he dropped off the track. As he tried to get around the track, the dreaded big one ensued in turn three to determine who would be left to battle it out for the victory.
Kyle Busch’s race was over with an engine problem as he drove into the garage area.
“It sucks to be in that conversation,” Busch said of not winning the Daytona 500. “We’ll go another year more.”
This year’s Daytona 500 started with a Presidential visit from President Donald J. Trump on Sunday and concluded under the lights on President’s Day.
But there was little reason to celebrate after Newman’s massive and frightening crash.