The NASCAR Cup Series is officially underway, and the first big victory of the season goes to Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing, who managed first place in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
The race was thrown for a loop when a massive 18-car wreck happened with nine laps to go, drawing a red flag and prompting a sprint to the finish wish a severely weakened field. That massive wreck was followed by a smaller wreck shortly after the race resumed with 7 remaining laps.
That made it, essentially, a 2-lap sprint. And once they got going again ... they crashed again, sending it into a 2-lap overtime. There were two Toyotas, two Fords and two Chevrolets in that order when the final restart happened. Hamlin managed to get past Kyle Busch right away, and then Joey Logano shot up past Busch as well, into second behind Hamlin. Hamlin would go on to hold on to the lead.
William Byron had pole position for the race, his first at the Daytona 500. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Alex Bowman, qualified in second. Between them, there were just there Daytona 500 starts, but in the rows behind, well-known veterans like Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Clint Bowyer loomed.
Before the race, as the drivers were taking a formation lap around the track, Byron told the FOX broadcast team over the radio that he wasn’t worried about what anybody behind him thinks. After the first round of pit stops, he’d fallen down to around fifth on the grid, but was holding his own.
The first caution came when LaJoie lost some bodywork after cutting his right-front tire. The second came when Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace were involved in a crash jut out of Turn 2.
After the first stage, Kyle Busch held the lead, ahead of Bowman and Logano on the outside. Byron was down to 13th after the first 60 laps. Logano got the lead at the start of stage two, and was battling back and forth with Daniel Suarez after Busch dropped back.
Throughout the race, the Toyota and Chevy cars were generally faster than the Fords. Byron made his way back up to fourth, with Bowman in third behind Kyle Busch Matt DiBenedetto halfway through the second stage. The third caution came out when Casey Mears and Parker Kligerman connected with 13 laps to go in Stage 2.
After some more pit stops, the second stage ended with Ryan Blaney on top, but the usual suspects around him. Byron had the lead back at the start of the third stage, and the 80-lap race was on. Byron was immediately scrapping with Jimmie Johnson, Stenhouse and Kevin Harvick.
Another caution occurred when Cody Ware and BJ McLeod wrecked going into the pit lane, and that collected some others, including Tyler Reddick, Johnson and Stenhouse. It was a messy, messy incident and it also caused the pit lane to be closed.
That is not ideal for Jimmie Johnson. pic.twitter.com/9nzmFUvF46— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 17, 2019
After that dustup, Denny Hamlin had the lead, followed by Bowman and Kyle Bush. Bowman had been hovering around the 13 range for much of the race, but he picked his moments well. At that time, Byron was running in sixth. Another caution followed as Kyle Larson made contact with the outside wall, prompting Byron and others to pit with 18 laps to go.
With 15 to go the top was Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, DiBenedetto and McDowell. The ninth caution of the day came when the veteran, Brad Keselowski, spun out and seemed to suffer a mechanical failure. And shortly after that, we had a massive wreck!
A total of 18 cars were involved, including all of Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Daniel Hemric, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Treux Jr., Erik Jones, Paul Menard, Tyler Reddick, Matt Tifft, Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt DiBenedetto.
The red flag came out, and the top five was Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Bowyer, McDowell and Harvick. Those guys just missed the wreck, which began at the start of the pack on the outside wall. When they got going again, there was another wreck almost immediately. Larson, Stenhouse, Harvick, Elliott, Bowman, Keselowski and Ty Dillon were all involved in it.