J.D. Was On A Lot Of Minds At End Of The 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 18 2019
Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing celebrates his victory in Sunday’s Daytona 500. The win was an emotional one for several reasons. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joe Gibbs Racing co-founder and former president J.D. Gibbs always believed in Denny Hamlin’s driving talent. On Sunday in the season opening Daytona 500, Hamlin didn’t let him down.

Hamlin emerged unscathed in the overtime event that endured three multiple-car crashes and two red flags in the final 10 laps to record his second Daytona 500 victory in four years. He led a JGR charge that had Kyle Busch claiming second and Erik Jones third. It was the first time since 1997 that one team had claimed the first three positions in the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports accomplished the feat with Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven.

“I guess everybody could say, well, that just happened.  I don’t believe that just happened,” says Joe Gibbs, who is very devout in his faith. “I think the Lord looked down on us, and I know J.D. … everybody in my family was emotional.  I called home to Pat (Gibbs’ wife), and I called sponsors that were emotional, too.

“It was just an unbelievable night, unbelievable crowd.  The whole thing was just a special memory for me, and it’s one I’ll never forget. It was the most important night of my occupational life.”

J.D. Gibbs and Denny Hamlin had a wonderful friendship. (File Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The last month has been an extremely emotional one for the Gibbs organization and family due to the loss of the 49-year-old J.D. in January to a degenerative neurological disease. Gibbs, the only coach to win three NFL Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, described this year’s Daytona 500 as “the most emotional and the biggest win I’ve ever had in my life in anything.”

“J.D. built our race team, was the guy that ran the day-to-day operations for 27 years,” continued Gibbs, who admitted immediately after the race that he was “emotionally shot.”

“He invested his occupational life in our race team. As a part of that, he went up to purchase some late model stuff from Denny and struck up a relationship with Denny. He put him in a test, put him in a truck, put him in an Xfinity car at Darlington, and finally he said, ‘We need to sign this guy.’”

The contract was finalized and Hamlin was given the No. 11 since that was J.D.’s favorite number when he raced. Throughout Speedweeks Hamlin carried a decal on his car honoring J.D.

“I know he (Joe Gibbs) would have been happy with any one of his cars going out there and getting a victory, but, obviously, one with his son’s name on the door and number is probably a little more special,” said Hamlin, whose 32nd-career victory snapped a 47-race winless streak and tied him with Dale Jarrett for 24th on the all-time win list.

Joe Gibbs. AKA, The Coach. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

  Hamlin led twice for 30 laps and averaged 137.44 mph in the race that had 12 caution periods for 47 laps. He took the lead for good on lap 199 of the race that was extended seven laps beyond the scheduled 200.

“We just were fortunate to really be up front at the right time to avoid those (wrecks),” Hamlin said. “I mean, we were really one row in front of all the mayhem the entire time at the end.”

That included the 21-car pileup that was triggered by the race’s top lap leader Matt DiBenedetto and Paul Menard.

“I saw he (DiBenedetto) was right behind me pushing me on one restart,” Hamlin said. “I actually moved up to block him, and the next thing you know he gets wrecked.” 

DiBenedetto, who led twice for 49 laps, appeared headed for a possible upset victory in the prestigious race until lap 191 when chaos struck. Menard’s attempt to push DiBenedetto in the outside line as they entered turn three failed. DiBenedetto turned sideways and in a split second 21 cars were wadded up on the speedway. A 24-minute 57-second red flag ensued.

The race restarted on lap 195, but the lap wasn’t completed before a seven-car incident occurred. With the race restarting on lap 199, a green-white-checker finish was in order. But once again the drivers couldn’t complete a green-flag lap without another massive crash. This one involved nine cars and a 14-minute 41-second red flag.

 “There’s a lot of give-and-take and a lot of guys that play the game and race the race throughout the beginning portion of the races,” Busch said in explaining how the race unfolded. “Then it comes down to the end, and somehow, someway there’s always that caution within 30 or 40 to go that sets everybody off pit road and then it’s chaos after that. Brains come unglued; from right up here to the gas pedal foot doesn’t quite work the same anymore.”

One might think the sheet metal carnage would have unnerved Hamlin, but that wasn’t the case.  

“I fell asleep twice under a couple of the red flags because I was just relaxed,” Hamlin said. “I knew what I needed to do, and I wasn’t going to venture off from that.  So I wasn’t nervous.”

Hamlin’s victory came in his first outing with new crew chief Chris Gabehart. Ironically, his 2016 Daytona 500 victory came in his initial outing with then crew chief Mike Wheeler.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – Daytona 500
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
Sunday, February 17, 2019

                1. (10)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 207.

                2. (31)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 207.

                3. (28)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 207.

                4. (4)  Joey Logano, Ford, 207.

                5. (34)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 207.

                6. (22)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 207.

                7. (26)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 207.

                8. (21)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 207.

                9. (17)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 207.

                10. (36)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 207.

                11. (2)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 207.

                12. (35)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 207.

                13. (5)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 207.

                14. (19)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 207.

                15. (25)  Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 205.

                16. (20)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 205.

                17. (18)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 200.

                18. (32)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 200.

                19. (38)  BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 200.

                20. (6)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 199.

                21. (1)  William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 198.

                22. (16)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 198.

                23. (30)  Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 197.

                24. (27)  Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Accident, 196.

                25. (12)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 196.

                26. (3)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 194.

                27. (39)  Tyler Reddick(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 191.

                28. (9)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Accident, 190.

                29. (7)  Paul Menard, Ford, Accident, 190.

                30. (24)  David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 190.

                31. (14)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 190.

                32. (8)  Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 190.

                33. (23)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, Accident, 190.

                34. (29)  Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, Accident, 190.

                35. (11)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Accident, 190.

                36. (33)  Matt Tifft #, Ford, Accident, 190.

                37. (15)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, Accident, 190.

                38. (13)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, Accident, 169.

                39. (37)  Cody Ware #, Chevrolet, Accident, 155.

                40. (40)  Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Accident, 104.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  137.44 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 45 Mins, 55 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .138 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  12 for 47 laps.

Lead Changes:  15 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   W. Byron 1-2;R. Stenhouse Jr. 3-6;M. DiBenedetto 7-21;K. Busch 22;R. Stenhouse Jr. 23-34;K. Busch 35-61;J. Logano 62-72;D. Hemric # 73;M. DiBenedetto 74-107;K. Busch 108;R. Blaney 109-121;W. Byron 122-163;J. McMurray 164-169;D. Hamlin 170-190;K. Busch 191-198;D. Hamlin 199-207.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Matt DiBenedetto 2 times for 49 laps; William Byron 2 times for 44 laps; Kyle Busch 4 times for 37 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 30 laps; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2 times for 16 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 13 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 11 laps; Jamie McMurray 1 time for 6 laps; Daniel Hemric # 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,88,22,41,12,11,9,42,4,20

Stage #2 Top Ten: 12,24,10,2,17,95,4,41,48,22

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 18 2019
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