DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The 2018 season marked the first time in Denny Hamlin's 13-year career as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver that he failed to win a race. On Sunday, Feb. 17, Hamlin made sure the 2019 season would not end up the same way as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the 61st running of the Daytona 500.
The victory was Hamlin's second in NASCAR's most prestigious race as he won the February race at Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-mile oval in 2016. His last victory overall had come 25 races into the 2017 season. And it was an emotional win.
"This one's for J.D.," Hamlin said, referring to J.D. Gibbs, the son of team owner Joe Gibbs who died recently of a degenerative neurological disease.
"Just amazing to be in this position. I don't want to tear this (car) up because I want to put it back in my house."
Setting up the victory was a pass of teammate Kyle Busch just before a wreck brought out a caution with two laps to go and set up an overtime restart.
On the overtime restart, Hamlin was perfect and was able to hold off Busch.
Busch had been hoping to win his first 500 in 14 starts and fill the biggest void on his racing resume.
Busch won the 60-lap first stage of the race while Ryan Blaney, as he did a year ago, captured the second stage.
Erik Jones finished third, giving Gibbs all three podium finishes.
Racing was fairly polite for a restrictor plate race -- until a huge wreck occurred near the front of the field 10 laps from the end. It started when Paul Menard turned Matt DiBenedetto, who had led 49 laps on the day, from behind. Among the 21 cars involved in the wreck were those of defending 500 champion Austin Dillon, pole-sitter William Byron, former Cup champ Martin Truex Jr., Blaney, Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola, who was headed to victory a year ago when he was spun from behind on the final corner of the final lap. Six of the drivers involved had led laps Sunday.
The wreck Sunday brought out a red flag for the massive cleanup. On the ensuing restart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got loose causing another big wreck involving six cars and further whittled down the field. On the restart after that caution, Clint Boyer made an aggressive move and another wreck occurred that set up an overtime finish.