This year's edition of the Daytona 500 was one of the most sensational and grinding races in recent memory, from Sunday’s rain postponement pushing the race to Monday to Denny Hamlin (11) squeaking by Ryan Blaney (12) for the win and everything in between. A spectacular entrance by Bubba Wallce jumping out of an air force plane to land on the infield of the Daytona International Speedway before getting into his car. The paint scheme of his 43 car featured tiger shark teeth on the grill to resemble the historic A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. The last 20 laps were filled with cautions which led to a terrifying crash involving Ryan Newman (6) on the final lap coming in contact with Blaney (12). Lastly, another legendary moment for Joe Gibbs racing victorious with now four Daytona 500 titles along with three Super Bowl championships as a football coach with the Washington Redskins.
The race would begin with President of the United States, Donald Trump saying the most famous words in motorsports history, “Gentleman, start your engines.” The pacer car was driven by WWE superstar, Sheamus, followed by President Trump and his wife, Melania as they rode in a specially built Cadillac limo, The Beast which is the official state car of the President. Unfortunately for everyone watching from home and in attendance, the race started an hour later than scheduled due to rain when the race resumed, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (47), who clocked in at over 194 mph at the qualifying event was in the poll position for The Great American Race, he led the first 20 laps of Stage 1 before the second rain delay, roughly two hours later, the race was postponed officially to the following day.
Before Monday’s continuation of Stage 1, almost all the drivers went into pit row, guess they didn’t have all day to prepare. Nascar legend, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. waved the green flag and the race was back on but this time it was Chase Elliott (9) dominating the field even after Stenhouse, Jr. (47) spun out William Byron (24) who would not return as he crashed on the back straightaway into the grass and off the wall at lap 58. Elliott was feisty and aggressive shutting the door on Alex Bowman (88) to win Stage 1. It was the “Hamlin Show” throughout the second stage leading 64 of 65 laps. He held off Martin Truex Jr. (19) who was behind him for most of the stage until he had an incident in pit row as the fuel can of Elliott (9) rolled out stopping Truex Jr. 's momentum for Stenhouse Jr. to gain second place. Hamlin would ride smoothly in front of Stenhouse Jr. to win Stage 2. There was a small two car crash on lap 90 featuring rookie, Quin Houff (00) and B.J. McLeod (52) in which Aric Almirola (10) spun out Houff who hit the wall, McLeod (52) had nowhere to go as he was forced to ride against the wall and came in contact with the side of Houff’s car, both drivers would not return.
The third and final 70 laps was nothing short of chaos and constant back and forth lead changes but at the start of Stage 3, it was Blaney (12), Stenhouse Jr. (47) and the defending champion, Kyle Bush (18) dueling it out for the top spot. There wouldn't be much action until the last 27 laps, when Stenhouse Jr. (47) hit the wall which the force popped his hood open, surprisingly enough, the yellow flag stayed down as he managed to safely bring his car into pit row. Bush (18) remained the leader for roughly half of the final stage until his engine blew up with 19 laps to go as there was smoke coming out of the back of the M&M Toyota Camry. With 17 laps to go, “The Big One” made its return to the Daytona 500, the crash started when Joey Logano (22), bump drafted Almirola (10) into Brad Keselowski (2) and off they went in separate directions, Almirola (10) went down the track and Keselowski (2) spun around like a helicopter propeller including many others in the wreck. Truex Jr. 's 19 car was totaled and as well as the legendary 48 car of Jimmy Johnson who is retiring at the end of the year, many of his fans were not happy his last Daytona 500 race ended so abruptly. After the red flag delayed the race for 20 minutes, Newman (6) led the pack until another caution with only 8 laps to go when Reed Sorenson (27) tried to cut off Timmy Hill (66) ultimately leading to Hill (66) spinning out Sorenson (27) into the wall. With another lead change, Hamlin (11) was back in front with 2 laps left, Ross Chastain (77) lost control of his car and slipped up the track crashing into both Logano (22) and Ryan Preece (37), “The Great American Race” would head into overtime. On the restart, Justin Haley (16) tapped Clint Bowyer (14) who bumped Michael McDowell (34) and another caution was called. You could sense the wolfpack driving aggressively and recklessly to be the winner of the “Super Bowl of Nascar.” The last lap began with Elliott (9) spinning out but no caution was called, it was a battle between Newman (6), Hamlin (11) and Blaney (12) leading to one of the scariest crashes in the sports history. As Newman headed off turn four, Blaney was right on his bumper as Newman tried to block him off, Blaney tapped him and he went up the track and smashed into the wall. As the car was off the ground, Corey Lajoie (32) drove right into Newman’s driver side which made the car take a full spin mid-air, as the car fell roof first skidding over the length of a football field bursting into flames. During that incident, Hamlin (11) managed to pass Blaney (12) and win the race by the nose of his car making the race second closest in Daytona 500 history.
Hamlin (11) is now a three-time Daytona 500 champion as he also becomes the first driver to win it back-to-back years since Sterling Marlin back in 1994 and 1995. Some may raise an eyebrow or two knowing the fact that Hamlin (11) failed several car inspections Sunday morning before the race and was put back from 21st position to 40th position but still raced a near perfect Stage 2 and impressive Stage 3 for the victory. As of the writing of this article, it has been reported by Roush Fenway racing, Ryan Newman has been treated and released from the Halifax Medical Center, Florida. Considering the severity of the crash, it is a miracle he was released in less than 48 hours and able to walk under his own power. You have to wonder if the 42 year old will make a return to Nascar, after the news today, it seems likely the “Rocketman” will be back to pilot the 6 car in the future. Next Sunday, the 40 cars will battle it out at the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas, Nevada.