After all the pre-race hype the Daytona 500 took the green flag today shortly after 3 pm. Denny Hamlin(11), starting on the front row, wasted no time driving past pole-sitter Alex Bowman(88) into the lead.
Just as quickly Hamlin went to the rear of the field one lap down. Corey LaJoie(72) brought out the first caution flag of the day on lap 8. Losing it in turn two and smacking the wall. As driver’s pitted for gas, Hamlin slid through his pit box. Pitting outside of the boundary of your pit stall earns a 1 lap penalty. NASCAR officials held Hamlin in his pit while the field took the green flag restarting the race. Hamlin lost another half lap exiting the pits and getting up to speed.
On Lap 23 Byron, Michigan native Erik Jone(20) moved to the front of the pack. Last year’s Rookie of the Year showed why Joe Gibbs Racing(JGR) placed Jones in the ride formerly piloted by veteran Matt Kenseth. During his rookie campaign, Jones drove for Furniture Row Racing. Teammates with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Martin Truex Jr.(78).
Kyle Busch(18) suffered a flat left rear tire on Lap 23 and lost a lap while his team changed all four Goodyears on the unscheduled pitstop. Busch exited the pits and hooked up with teammate Hamlin to provide a drafting partner. Hoping to avoid both drivers going two laps down as the lead pack chased them.
With 10 laps to go in Stage 1, Kyle Busch cut another tire and spun in turn three. D J Kennington(96) clipped his rear bumper. Busch’s team repaired the car and got Kyle back into the race three laps down. But, his chances for the win were all but gone.
The finish of Stage 1 also ruined the day for a number of drivers. Jockeying for positions Kyle Larson(42) tapped Logano’s left rear fender. The contact cut a tire and Logano was forced to the pits for fresh rubber. Cursing his luck at exiting a lap down, Logano avoided the first major incident of the day.
Coming to the green and white checkered flag the battle for stage points heated up. Trouble on the backstretch erupted into the “Big One” in turn three. The wreck eliminated several contenders. Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson(48), Daniel Suarez(19), and Ty Dillon(13) all crashed out of the race. For Johnson, Speedweeks proved disastrous. Three races, three wrecked race cars.
Kurt Busch(41) last year’s Daytona 500 winner avoided the melee and won Stage 1. Seven Fords(*) earned stage points after the 60 lap segment.
Possibly rattled by the incident at the end of Stage 1, drivers settled things down for the first 40 laps of Stage 2. Hamlin returned to the lead lap. Logano did not. Unfortunately, things did not stay that way. With 19 laps to go Brad Keselowski(2) bumped Chase Elliott(9) entering turn three. Elliott and Keselowski both spun and collected more contenders. Kevin Harvick made contact with Keselowski. Kasey Kahne(95) and Danica Patrick(7) were also involved.
Logano returned to the lead lap as the lucky dog on the caution period brought out by the crash. Patrick, running the first half of her retirement farewell tour “The Danica Double” made it one lap past the halfway point of the race. For her, the second half of the double takes place in May at the Indianapolis 500.
Just after taking the green flag to restart the race Ricky Stenhouse(17) Danica’s former boyfriend entered the pits with an overheating engine. Stenhouse lost two laps and saw his chance at a Daytona 500 victory disappear.
Stage 2 Results
Ryan Blaney(12) won the Stage for Team Penske. Just ahead of his former team, the Wood Brothers, and their new driver Paul Menard(21). Blaney led a parade of Ford drivers in the first five positions across the Stage finish line.
The Race to Lap 200
Blaney and Logano paced the field until final pit stops commenced at lap 171. Logano could not get his car slowed enough and received a penalty for too fast entering pit road. Blaney maintained the lead off pit road. Truex moved to second, Kurt Busch third, and Bowman to fourth after everyone stopped.
Logano pitted for his drive-through penalty on the next circuit and did not lose a lap. However, sitting 15th as the last car on the lead lap he will need a caution to get back into contention. Hamlin pitted the lap after the leaders and it cost him several positions. Falling from third to eighth.
With 16 laps to go the field caught Logano putting the 22 car a lap down. But then, a caution with 10 to go for a William Byron(24) spin gives Logano the break he needs. He returns to the lead lap getting the lucky dog free pass.
After the Byron caution, the green flag waves with seven to go and the battle is on. The lead seems to swap every corner. The competition is intense, the pushing and shoving put several cars almost out of control. Unavoidably the “Big One” version 2 happens with two laps to go.
Blaney taps the rear of Kurt Busch’s Ford and cancels the 41 car’s chance of being the repeat winner. Busch spins and takes out half of the top 10.
Just 10 cars remained on the lead lap as the race went into overtime. With Aric Almirola(10) and Hamlin coming to the green flag side by side. Somehow the driver’s played nice for 1 lap taking the white flag to make the race official. Into turn one on the final lap Almirola surges ahead. Austin Dillon(3) and Hamlin battle door-to-door for second.
Down the backstretch, Dillon gets a push from Darrell Wallace Jr.(43) and closes on the back of Almirola. Reaching his bumper Dillon gives the 10 car a couple of taps and Almirola goes around. As the cars behind scatter to avoid the spinning Almirola, Dillon pulls out to a slight advantage. With Wallace and Hamlin banging doors, Dillon captures his first Daytona 500 win.
The #3 Returns to Victory Lane at Daytona
In 1998 Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 for the first and only time in his illustrious career. Now, 20 years later his car owner Richard Childress sees his grandson Austin Dillon return the iconic number 3 to victory lane at Daytona.
In another unbelievable aspect to the 60th running of the Great American Race. Richard Petty entered into a competitive alliance with his friend Childress after last season. Richard Petty Motorsports moved into a garage on the RCR campus. Switched from Ford to Chevrolet so they could share technology. And hired rookie Bubba Wallace to drive the iconic 43 race car. Bubba outfought Hamlin to finish second behind Dillon just inches in front of the 11 car.
Wallace could not hold back the tears in the media center with the arrival of his mother offering congratulations. The highest finishing rookie in the race and the highest finish for an African-American driver ever in the Daytona 500.
By the way, the 11 car is the winningest number in NASCAR Cup History. Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, and Darrell Waltrip drove it to victory lane for 147 of the 11’s 209 wins. With the numbers 3, 43, & 11 lighting up the scoring board at Daytona, nostalgia filled the warm night air. What a way to start the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Next week, The Lasco Press brings you all the action live from Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 takes the green flag shortly after 2 pm Sunday the 25th. Check back during the weekend for the stories and pictures of our unique live event coverage.
Finishing Order 2018 Daytona 500
|2||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||0.26||207|
|18||78||Martin Truex Jr.||-2||205|
|29||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-10||197|