Daytona International Speedway, February 17, 2019
The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of stock car racing. Instead of culminating the NASCAR season, the 500 opens it. Next to NASCAR Cup Champion, Daytona 500 Champion is the most coveted title in the sport.
Who will hold that title after the race today? That’s what a sellout crowd at the “World Center of Racing” came to see. If you have never been to a Daytona 500 it is truly a worthy entry on anyone’s bucket list. The scene is amazing, television does not do it justice. The fan reaction to pre-race festivities is electric. The U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds flyover makes the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention. The roar of the engines as 40 cars speed past the flag-stand is deafening.
Fords the Favorites
After running 1-2-3 in each of the qualifying races Thursday evening the Mustangs of Ford Performance are clearly the favorites. But, as Austin Dillon(3), the winner of last year’s 500, can attest. Any of the 40 cars in the field can pull off the win. Stay out of the big wreck, work your way to the front at the end of the race, and make the right move at the right time.
Sound Easy? Richard Petty won the Great American Race 7 times. Dale Earnhardt only once, Jimmie Johnson(48) twice. Some of the most successful drivers of this era Kyle Busch(18), Martin Truex Jr.(19), and Brad Keselowski(2) have never won a Daytona 500. Young guns William Byron(24) and Alex Bowman(88) start on the front row today and would like to score their first Cup victory today at Daytona. Michigan’s Erik Jones(20) scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series victory when he won here in July, can he go back-to-back? He starts 28th today.
Much to the approval of the fans side-by-side racing developed right from the start. The bottom line, which had been a ticket to the rear of the field in earlier races, pushed Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) to the lead. Matt DiBenedetto(95) left GoFas Racing after 2018 to look for a better opportunity. It was a big risk. He landed a ride with Leavine Family Racing who was looking for a driver after Kasey Kahne retired last year. DiBenedetto rewarded them by driving to the front and leading 11 laps early.
Stages for the 500 are 60/60/80 laps. In a coordinated move, almost all the Ford Mustangs pitted on Lap 16. At Daytona, you can pit without losing a lap. The strategy was intended to give them a track position advantage when the field cycled through pit stops.
Corey LaJoie(32) added a wrinkle to that strategy and the nose of his car, blowing a right front tire on lap 20. The caution allowed the rest of the field to pit. For Corey it was a nightmare scenario, his face adorned the hood and grille of his car. The internet mems will be brutal as his car is now missing his right cheek. Broadcaster Darrell Waltrip started it off by saying. “That sure wiped the smile of Corey’s face.”
More side-by-side racing ensued on the restart. Kurt Busch(1) triggered an incident on Lap 49 when he tried to squeeze down in front of Stenhouse after making a pass. He spun collecting Bubba Wallace(43) and Jamie McMurray(40). Busch and Wallace lost laps as a result of time on pit road making repairs.
Great racing to the green and white checkered flag to end Stage 1. Kyle Busch held on for the Stage win, Bowman placed 2nd and Joey Logano(22) took 3rd.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Pit stop strategy continued to be all over the board. Logano stayed out and inherited the lead. The Ford Performance Mustangs of Ryan Blaney(12), Daniel Suarez(41), Kevin Harvick(4), Aric Almirola(10), and Paul Menard(21) lined up and towed the field around to lap 73 when the Fords again pitted in unison. Menard was too fast on pit road and had to serve a drive-through penalty.
As small groups pitted throughout Stage 2, the Mustangs in a solid line continue to circle the speedway at 200 mph. However, the leaders tracked down the Ford pack and at the halfway point joined the line. Then on Lap 106, Casey Mears nixed the early pit strategy by bringing out the caution with the engine in his race car blowing up. Almost all of the leaders pitted, setting up a nine-lap sprint to the end of the Stage.
Back to Side-By-Side Racing
On the restart with the field bunched up, it was back to side-by-side racing and an occasional 3-wide battle. Blaney took the stage win followed by Byron, Almirola, Keselowski, and Stenhouse. Seven Mustang drivers earned Stage points in Stage 2.
Stage 2 Results
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||6|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Team Penske tweeted a picture of some debris taken off the grille of Ryan Blaney’s car, a $5 bill.
A total of 30 cars on the lead lap to start the Final Stage. All running door handle-to-door handle as everyone is turning up the wick. Pole sitter William Byron sets the pace followed by seven-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson(48). Flying in formation Johnson and the kid who now has Johnson’s old crew chief Chad Knaus sitting on top of Byron’s pit box.
Pit stops started on Lap 158 and disaster struck. Cody Ware (52) and BJ McLeod spun entering pit road setting off a melee. Stenhouse and Tyler Reddick(31) got together and Jimmie Johnson could not avoid the mess. The impact ripped the left rear quarter panel off Johnson’s car creating a problem with the fueling receptacle. The resulting caution allowed the field to take enough fuel and tires to complete the race.
With the race restarting on lap 168, the checkered flag was in sight. Three-wide racing at the front of the pack had everyone dicing for positions. Denny Hamlin(11) led followed by Bowman and Kyle Busch.
The caution flag flew again on Lap 173 for debris on the back straightaway. After the clean-up, the race resumed with 23 laps to go. Hamlin led, followed by Kyle Busch and Erik Jones. The caution came out again when Kyle Larson(42) had a left rear tire come apart. Jones was forced to the pits with a lack of fuel pressure. Repairs were made, but Jones lost a lap in the pits. Attrition was beginning to take its toll.
Back to green with 16 laps to go. Keselowski had a tire go flat and spun off turn 4. Brad could not get his car re-fired and had to be push started to make it back to pit road.
When the green flag waved this time there were 10 laps to go.
“The Big One”
Before the field could get back to the start/finish line Menard tapped the rear of Matt DiBenedetto getting the 95 car sideways. The “Big One” ensued with the pack heading into Turn 3. DiBenedetto led 49 laps, by far his best day on the Cup circuit ended with a destroyed race car.
A total of 18 cars were involved, including a number of top drivers. The list of those involved Truex, last year’s winner Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Ryan Newman(6), Jones, Larson, Johnson, Almirola, David Ragan(38), Suarez, Blaney, Chris Buescher(37), Matt Tifft(36), Stenhouse, Ryan Preece(47), and Daniel Hemric(8). Joey Logano brushed against a couple of cars but made it through with minimal damage. The race was stopped with the red flag.
Back to Green
After a 25-minute stoppage, cars began to roll with nine laps to go. Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer(14), Michael McDowell(34), and Logano will lead them to the green flag. Only 6 laps remain as what’s left of the field takes the green. Again they can’t complete a lap without another wreck.
Turn three is again littered with sheet metal. This one takes out Kevin Harvick. No red flag this time so the race will go into overtime before they can clean up the mess on the track.
When the green flag waves with 3 to go Busch, Hamlin, McDowell, Logano, and Bowyer are the top five. Rookie Ryan Preece restarts in 6th having avoided all the carnage to this point. Turn 3 seems to be the trouble spot on the track as the 3rd straight restart ends with a crash at that point. Clint Bowyer, Byron, and Chase Elliott fall victim this time. The race is once again put under the red flag.
As overtime looms the top 2 remain the same, Logano now leads McDowell, and Preece replaces Bowyer in 5th. Ty Dillon’s damaged car sits 6th, and Erik Jones was able to make up his lost lap with all the cautions. Erik sits 7th.
The 15-minute red flag pushed the finish of the race past 7:30 pm in the East. Hamlin held onto the lead as everyone raced clean on the restart. Logano moved to 2nd, but Hamlin blocked his every move. Hamlin captured the win, Kyle Busch fought back to finish 2nd. Erik Jones drove to the 3rd spot in a remarkable finish for the Byron, Michigan native. Logano took 4th and Michael McDowell held onto 5th. Ryan Preece finished 8th.
Heart Warming Tribute
Joe Gibbs Racing’s 1-2-3 finish brought the former Washington Redskins coach to tears. Gibbs lost his son JD last month to neurological degenerative disease. The race was dedicated to JD and Hamlin’s car carried a decal in tribute to the young man who died at the age of 49. A remarkable finish for the Gibb’s organization and Coach Gibbs, one of the most popular owners in the sport. Joe Gibbs remarked that mixed with the tribute to his son, “This is the greatest day of my life.”
Results of the 61st Daytona 500
|13||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||19.873||207|
|35||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-16||190|