Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — February 16, 2020
Finally, it’s time to run the Daytona 500. All the talk and the preliminary events have been concluded, it’s just time to race. The atmosphere at Daytona International Speedway all week has been electric, more than the usual anticipation. Maybe it was the President coming to give the command to start the race. Maybe it was the multitude of changes in drivers and crew chiefs. Whatever the reason, a sold-out crowd turned out to observe the spectacle.
How fitting the race never took the green flag before rain parked the cars on pit road during a red flag delay to dry the track. Okay, take a breath and relax for an hour while the jet dryers get the track back in racing condition.
Time to take a minute and get the facts updated. Last year’s winner was Denny Hamlin(11), his dramatic victory and connection with the recently deceased J.D. Gibbs launched a dream season for Joe Gibbs Racing culminating in his teammate Kyle Busch winning the Cup Championship.
In prerace ceremonies, Hamlin’s 2019 winning car was returned to Gibbs after being on display in the Daytona Speedway Museum for the past year. The Coach says it will be featured in a special location within their organization due to its sentimental value.
As we got ready to go to green, Hamlin dropped from his 21st place starting position to the rear of the field. The penalty for failing pre-race inspection twice. Ryan Blaney(21) also moved to the rear after wrecking his primary car in the Duels and rolling out the backup.
Stages for the 500 are 65/65/70 laps. A rule change this year on what makes an official race. Last year, drivers had to complete Stage 2 before the race could be called due to rain or darkness. This year that changes to halfway or the end of Stage 2 whichever occurs first. Makes sense.
That’s important because rain delayed the start of the race when the track was soaked by a pop-up storm just before the green flag.
After the President gave the command to start the engines, Dale Earnhardt Jr. waved the green flag to get the race started. The pole-sitter, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), took the green flag and tried to get hooked up with Alex Bowman(88) who started beside him on the front row.
But, a train of Ford Mustangs, led by Joey Logano(22) came charging to the front. Stenhouse moved to block and the train pushed him forward.
Content to let Stenhouse use more gas by leading the pack, the Fords fell in line and followed. The entire field soon blended into one long line, front to rear. Interestingly the Toyota drivers choose to move to the back of the field and line up with Hamlin. The stay safe, avoid the “Big One,” and wait until the end to make your move strategy has been employed often on the big superspeedways.
The lack of aggressive racing could also be contributed to the shower fast approaching the Speedway from the West. After just 20 green flag laps the rain struck again. This time a harder and longer storm soaked the track to a greater degree.
After a couple of attempts to dry the track proved non-productive, NASCAR decided to postpone the event until Monday. The restart is scheduled for 4 pm.
While it would have been great to run this race at 10 am on Presidents Day, television pays the bills and a 4 pm start is more conducive to a larger television audience. A good crowd returned for the conclusion of the event, much to the relief of NASCAR who recently introduced a weather guarantee to their ticket purchase program. Unused tickets could be exchanged for a seat to the same race next season.
As of race time, the skies are clear and the goal of completing the race in full looks good. Prior to the restart, everyone pitted for fuel and some took tires. When the green flag fell, Brad Keselowski(2) move to the lead and Fords held nine of the top 10 positions. Only Stenhouse was able to run with Blue Ovals.
Jockeying for position continued as the field ran side-by-side. As the lead swapped between drivers the cars ultimately lined up in single file. Aric Almirola(10), Ryan Newman(6), and Chase Elliott(9) all took turns at the front.
With 11 laps to go in Stage 1, Stenhouse clipped the rear of William Byron(24) spinning him out down the backstretch. Damage to the nose of the #24 car put Byron out of the 500. On the resulting caution, approximately half of the field pitted for fuel to make sure they could make it to the end of the Stage.
Late Stage Restart
The battle for Stage points got real with a double-file restart with two laps to go, opening the fight for the top 10 points-paying positions. Interestingly the Toyotas lagged almost a half-lap back, avoiding the potential for a Stage ending wreck.
Drivers kept their cool and the Stage ended with Elliott in front, followed by Alex Bowman(88), Almirola, Logano, and Jimmie Johnson(48).
Stage 1 Results
|47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
After pitting late in Stage 1, the Toyota’s stayed on the track during the stage ending caution and inherited the lead. When the line settled out after the restart the running order was Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. (19), Kyle Busch(18), Erik Jones(20), and Christopher Bell(95). Keselowski organized a line of Ford Mustangs and began to move towards the front.
With 89 Laps on the board, Almirola spun Quinn Houff(00) and he collected B.J. McLeod(52). Damage to Houff’s car put him out of the race. McLeod was able to continue. Kevin Harvick(4) sustained minor damage to his bumper in the incident. He pitted before pit road was open, meaning he will have to start from the rear of the field. This is probably okay as some of the Ford drivers are trying the stay back, stay safe strategy.
Everyone pitted for fuel on the caution to give them enough gas to race to the end of Stage 2. On the restart, it will be Hamlin, Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Truex, and Logano. Last year, when Hamlin won the 500 he only led 30 laps. Through the end of the 2nd Stage, Hamlin spent 62 laps at the front as he dominated that segment of the race.
Stage 2 Results
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||8|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||7|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
The intensity at the front of the pack picked up considerably when the green flag waved to start the Final Stage. Blaney and Stenhouse swapped the lead as teammates scrambled to get lined up. Kyle Busch took the lead for eight laps until Keselowski led a group of Fords to the front.
The final pit stop may ultimately determine the winner, especially if it happens under green. Keselowski keeps blocking Kyle Busch on the bottom lane, then he will go to the high side and pick up a push from Blaney. Kyle cannot move forward because Blaney keeps side drafting him and scrubbing off speed.
Blaney makes a mistake and gets caught in the middle lane. He quickly drops out of the top 10. Stenhouse passed him but got 2 wheels below the double yellow line. NASCAR called the penalty on Stenhouse, forcing him to the pits for a pass-through on Lap 163.
The Fords of Logano, Keselowski, and Almirola are now guarding the front of the field. With Johnson and his teammate Alex Bowman(88) trying to break up the trio. With 30 laps to go, the leaders are well within their fuel window to gas up and complete the race. The Fords and Toyotas choose to pit in mass. Kyle Busch is first out, followed by Logano.
Erik Jones runs into the back of getting him sideways. Stenhouse’s hood pops up but he is able to make it to pit road and the race stays green.
The Chevys pit on Lap 174, they exit pit road as the lead draft passes them in Turn 1. The leaders are now separated into two packs.
Twenty laps to go and the two packs join nose to tail. It’s back to side-by-side racing and everyone begins to make their move for the finish. Kyle Busch gets shuffled out of the lead. Smoke billowing from the right rear of the M&M’s machine blows up and Busch will have to wait another year to try and capture that elusive first win in the Daytona 500.
The Big One
On Lap 183 the “Big One” erupts at the end of the backstretch. Logano gets a big run and bump drafts Almirola, sending him forward into Brad Keselowski. For the second time in a week, Keselowski, through no fault of his own, has a fast race car knocked out from underneath him. Logano is able to weave through the mess and escape unscathed. The carnage blocks Turn 3 and NASCAR puts out the red flag
Involved in the accident are Kurt Busch(1), Keselowski, Almirola, Johnson, Bubba Wallace(43), Chastain, Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto(21), Truex, Blaney, Austin Dillon(3), David Ragan(36), Tyler Reddick(8), Buescher, Brendan Gaughan(62), and Ty Dillon(13).
After all the pit stops settle out, Newman leads. Christopher Bell(95), in his first Cup Race, restarts second, Elliott 3rd, Logano 4th, and Hamlin 5th. The race restarts with 10 laps to go. Logano pushes Newman to the clear lead and Bell gets shuffled out of the top pack.
Another caution is displayed for an incident off Turn 2 on Lap 192. Timmy Hill(66) and Reed Sorenson(27) got tangled up. The race will restart on Lap 196 with Newman, Logano, Hamlin, Kyle Larson(42) and Ryan Preece(37) the top five.
Hamlin pushes Newman to a four-car length lead and then passes him at the start/finish line. Into Turn 1, Chastain loses it on the bottom of a three-wide group, he goes up the track and runs into Preece. Logano gets caught up in it, as does Bell and the red comes out again on Lap 199. Chase Elliott, Reddick, Dillon, Bell, and Michael McDowell(34) were also involved in the incident.
Denny Hamlin leads but five Fords line up behind him for the restart. Buescher, Harvick, Newman, Clint Bowyer(14), and Blaney. Is more than one overtime going to be necessary to get to the checkered flag? Call it likely!
Across the line on the restart, McDowell got into the back of Bowyer and the pair spun into the tri-oval. Line em up for Overtime #2. Corie LaJoie(32), moves into the Top 6, also in a Ford.
On the second attempt at a green-white-checker finish, Hamlin leads with a big push from Blaney and comes around to take the white flag making it an official finish. Newman gets a run down the backstretch and takes the lead heading into Turn 3, again with Blaney pushing. Blaney goes high and gets blocked by Newman, Blaney dips low and again Newman blocks.
The two lock bumpers and Newman turns sideways hitting the outside wall. As his car comes off the wall it turns and goes airborne, When Newman lands on the track he is on his hood and gets slammed by Corey LaJoie flipping him in the air again. Unfortunately, it does not right the car and it comes down again on its hood, sliding to the exit of the pit road in a shower of sparks before coming to a stop. A fire breaks out, but the safety crews are at the scene quickly to extinguish it as it appears gasoline is leaking from the rear of the vehicle.
It appears Blaney will get the win. However, Hamlin never lifts and goes high to pass Blaney at the line in a photo finish. The two closest finishes in Daytona 500 history, 1/1,000 of a second and Hamlin has won them both. His victory also makes him a back-to-back winner of the 500, an infrequent occurrence.
The victory lane celebration is muted given the fact that Newman has still not been extracted from the vehicle by the time Hamlin reached victory lane. After a long delay that included the track safety crews constructing screens to block the view of Newman’s car, he is put on a stretcher and into the ambulance. Taken directly to a local hospital his condition is unknown, a solemn pall falls over the track and no further news is available as the Speedway essentially shuts down.
In a horrible aside to the events of the evening, Newman had just announced on Thursday that he and his wife Krissie were amicably separating after 16 years of marriage.
Results of the 62nd Annual Daytona 500 from Daytona International Speedway
|11||38||John Hunter Nemechek||1.901||209|
|20||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-3||206|
|32||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-23||186|