Denny Hamlin wins the Daytona 500 for second consecutive year

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Denny Hamlin won his second consecutive Daytona 500, which ended in a last-lap wreck that left Ryan Newman in serious condition at a Daytona Beach, Florida, hospital.

Hamlin, Newman and Ryan Blaney were battling for the victory off the final turn at Daytona International Speedway when Newman’s No. 6 Ford took a hard right into the outside wall after a push from Blaney’s No. 12 Ford.

Blaney finished just a few feet behind Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota as Newman turned hard into the outside wall in a crash off the last corner on a push from Blaney’s No. 12 Ford, which had ducked down the track after wiggling on a push by Hamlin.

Newman’s No. 6 Ford flipped upside down and was hit hard in the driver’s side door by Corey LaJoie‘s No. 32 Ford. Newman’s Musang slid a few hundred feet on its roof, coming to a stop at the exit of the pits as fuel appeared to be spilling from its rear end.

It took safety workers more than 10 minutes after the checkered flag to extricate Newman from his damaged Mustang.

Newman was transported to nearby Halifax Medical Center and was in serious condition with injuries that weren’t life threatening, according to Roush Fenway Racing.

“No. 1 we’re praying for Ryan (Newman),” Hamlin said in a subdued victory lane celebration. “I worked really well with Ryan throughout the whole race. Obviously, he got turned right there.”

Hamlin outdueled the two Ford drivers in the second overtime restart Monday after Blaney and Newman briefly had teamed up to pass him on the backstretch of the final lap.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won by 0.014 seconds, the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history. He also won the closest finish in the 2016 Daytona 500 when he outdueled Martin Truex Jr.

Hamlin became the fourth back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500, joining Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95).

With his 38th career victory, Hamlin joined Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon as three-time Daytona 500 winners.

Multiple crashes in final laps

Several contenders were eliminated in a 19-car crash with 16 laps remaining. The chain-reaction wreck began when Joey Logano bumped Aric Almirola, who lost control and hit leader Brad Keselowski.

It was the second wreck of Speedweeks involving the Team Penske Fords, but unlike in the Busch Clash wreck, Keselowski put the blame on himself instead of Logano this time.

“I should have covered myself better and didn’t,” Keselowski, who remains winless in 11 attempts at the Daytona 500, told Fox. “It’s my fault. I kind of put myself in position for that.”

The wreck also eliminated Jimmie Johnson, who might have made his last start in the Daytona 500, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto.

Logano scooted through the mess unscathed, and the race was stopped for just over 12 minutes for cleanup.

Defending Cup champion Kyle Busch was leading with 25 laps remaining but suffered a mechanical problem with 20 to go and remains winless in 15 tries at the Great American Race.

Pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the first 23 laps and was in contention for his first Daytona 500 victory before being penalized by NASCAR for dipping below the yellow line while advancing position with 40 laps remaining. The pole-sitter seemed to have been trying to avoid causing a major wreck when he swerved after contact with Ryan Blaney.

Stenhouse would crash about 15 laps later after contact with Erik Jones but managed to reach the pits without causing a yellow.

William Byron, who started fourth after winning the second qualifying race last Thursday, finished 40th after his No. 24 Chevrolet was the first car out of the race in a crash near the end of the 65-lap first stage. On Lap 59, Byron went for a ride through the grass after getting bumped by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. twice on the backstretch.

“I feel like there’s really no reason to be that aggressive moving across my bumper, but it is what it is,” Byron told Fox. “We’ll go on to Vegas and go try to win that one.”

The race restarted under caution at 4:05 p.m. Monday after only the second postponement in the 62-year history of the Daytona 500.

Trump honorary race starter

A series of mid-afternoon storms limited racing to only 20 laps Sunday. NASCAR was a half-lap from having honorary starter Dale Earnhardt Jr. wave the green flag for the start when the green flag initially was waved off at 3:29 p.m. Three minutes later, the skies opened up around the speedway, forcing a red flag for track drying from the passing shower.

The field was paced on its first lap by the motorcade of President Trump, who gave the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. and then was greeted by a group of NASCAR officials and team owners, including Richard Childress, Chip Ganassi, Joe Gibbs, Rick Hendrick, Richard Petty, Roger Penske and Jack Roush.

Air Force One landed at Daytona International Airport just behind the backstretch shortly after 1 p.m., and Trump addressed the crowd from a stage in victory lane about 90 minutes later. In prepared remarks, Trump described the Daytona 500 as “pure American glory” and a “legendary display of roaring engines, soaring spirits and the American skill, speed and power. The tens of thousands of patriots here today have come for the fast cars and the world-class motorsports. But NASCAR fans never forget that no matter who wins the race, what matters most is God, family and country.”

Trump’s visit marked the fourth time a sitting U.S. president has attended a NASCAR race at Daytona. President Ronald Reagan was the first in July 4, 1984, witnessing Richard Petty’s 200th career victory. President George H.W. Bush attended the July 4,1992 race, and his son, George W. Bush, became the first president to attend the Daytona 500 on Feb. 15, 2004.

Trump said this was the fifth time he’d attended the Daytona 500.

“It really is the great American race,” Trump told Fox Sports in an interview after his address. “I look at it as almost a patriotism kind of thing. We love NASCAR. We love the people of NASCAR.”

Trump departed the track about 15 minutes after the rain hit, and Air Force One took off at 4:10 p.m., about 10 minutes before the green flag fell for the first time Sunday.

Stage 1 winner: Chase Elliott

Stage 2 winner: Denny Hamlin

What’s next: The first 1.5-mile race of the season will take place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on February 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox).

Corey LaJoie calls fourth-place finish ‘huge’ for him, Spire Motorsports

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HAMPTON, Ga. — With about 30 laps left in Sunday’s Cup race, Joey Logano looked around and suddenly saw Corey LaJoie’s car near the front.

“Oh, there he is,” Logano, the eventual winner, said he thought to himself. “Where has he been all day?

“Corey just kind of popped up there.”

LaJoie took a methodical approach — he ran in the top 10 for only 13 of the first 167 laps — and found himself toward the front for the third consecutive race since Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured. 

His career-best fourth-place finish Sunday continued his strong runs at Atlanta, but also showed the growth in his Spire Motorsports team. While it’s only five races into the season, LaJoie is 14th in the points. He’s never finished better than 29th in Cup.

LaJoie placed fifth at Atlanta in March 2022 and was passed by Chase Elliott for the lead two laps from the finish in the July 2022 race there. Sunday, his push launched Logano on the final lap to pass Brad Keselowski for the win. 

While LaJoie continues to seek his first career Cup win, he was excited about his result.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” he said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

Also significant was that LaJoie was the top-finishing Chevrolet.

“That’s a really big deal for us,” crew chief Ryan Sparks told NBC Sports. “Just kind of prove ourself and hopefully continue to build a relationship with Chevrolet. It’s always great to be (Chevrolet’s) top finisher. Obviously, we want to win the race. We’re getting closer. I think we’ll get up there for the year is done.”

After failing to make the feature in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race, LaJoie finished 16th in this year’s Daytona 500. He followed that by placing 14th at Fontana, California and then was 20th at Las Vegas and 26th at Phoenix before Sunday.

He has an average finish of 16.0 in the first races of the season. He’s never had an average finish better than 24th in his previous full-time Cup seasons. 

His performance this year has him in a playoff spot and ahead of in the standings:

  • Three cars from Stewart-Haas Racing
  • Both cars from 23XI Racing
  • Both cars from Legacy Motor Club
  • Both cars from Front Row Motorsports
  • All the Hendrick cars (although their penalties will be appealed)
  • Both Kaulig Racing cars

“We’ve started the year off really, really solid,” LaJoie said. “I don’t think we could have started any better. We messed up at Phoenix, but we came back and rebounded and put a good payday in the bank and a couple of points around the guys we are racing as well.

“It’s inevitable that a lot of the guys we’re in front of are going to catch us, those guys are the ones that run top 10 and top 15 consistently, so we have to get to where we can, on any given intermediate or any given short track, run in the top 15 a little bit better. We’re getting there. Days like this give us more confidence.”

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Sunday’s race matched two drivers who are among the best in the sport at speedway style racing dueling for the win in former teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

It marked the first time they had finished 1-2 in a speedway style race, as Logano passed Keselowski on the last lap to win Sunday at Atlanta.

“I feel like Brad is one of the top five best speedway racers on the racetrack,” Logano said. “I feel like I’m in there. A few others that are in there that you just know are really, really good at it.

“We were kind of duking it out back and forth, side by side, side drafting each other. Okay, this is what you would expect. It’s fun going up against the best like that.

“He works really hard at it. He studies it. He’s really smart at speedway racing, for sure. When you think of driver and spotter combinations, you’re going against two of the best right there, right? Whether it’s T.J. (Majors) and Brad or myself and Coleman Pressley) , if I’m picking a couple pairings of people that understand the draft, those two groups are the best at it. So it was fun to kind of go back and forth there at the end.”

Said Keselowski of racing Logano: “We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it’s just a matter of how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way there at the end and he made a good move. Kudos to him.”

It was a much different ending from their duel on the final lap of the 2021 Daytona 500. Logano led Keselowski when they made contact, triggering a multi-car crash and allowing Michael McDowell to win the race.

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Brad Keselowski’s runner-up finish continued his improved start to the season compared to last year. 

“We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of,” Keselowski said, “so I’m proud of that.”

A look at how much better this season has started for Keselowski compared to last year:

His average finish in the first five races of this season is 13.2 compared to 19.2 at this time last year.

He’s run in the top 15 in 85% of the laps run this season compared to running in the top 15 in 37.4% of the laps in the first five races of last season.

His average running position in a race is 9.5 this year compared to 18.3 at this time last year.

 

 

 

Several Cup drivers running extra race at COTA

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Seven Cup drivers will do double-duty this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.

Four Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the road course in Austin, Texas. They are:

Aric Almirola (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing)

AJ Allmendinger (No. 10 Kaulig Racing)

William Byron (No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports)

Ty Gibbs (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing)

Three Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at COTA. They are:

Alex Bowman (No. 7 Spire Motorsports)

Ross Chastain (No. 41 Niece Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports)

In the Cup Series, there are 39 entries that includes a few road racing specialists:

Jordan Taylor (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports)

Jenson Button (No. 15 Rick Ware Racing)

Kimi Raikkonen (No. 91 Trackhouse Racing)

Also entered this weekend is Jimmie Johnson in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club and IndyCar driver Conor Daly in the No. 50 for TMT Racing.

COTA Cup Entry List

COTA Xfinity Entry List

COTA Truck entry list

 

 

 

 

Winners and losers at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Joey Logano — Logano had won 31 Cup Series races entering Sunday’s 400-miler, but none had come at Atlanta. He changed that statistical column in a big way, leading 140 laps and making a risky move around leader Brad Keselowski on the final lap to record win No. 32.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski’s struggle to return RFK Racing to prominence has taken many months, but he has had impressive runs this year. He led 47 laps Sunday and was on the verge of victory.

Christopher Bell — With better organization from the Toyotas at the front, Bell would have had a shot at a win. He finished third and has been in the top six in four of the season’s five races.

Corey LaJoie — Sunday’s fourth-place run was LaJoie’s best in 205 Cup starts, and his smart start to the season is an indication that better things might be ahead.

LOSERS

William Byron — Byron’s two-race winning streak ended with a thud — literally — Sunday as he was involved in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd.

Kevin Harvick — From one instant to the next, Harvick fell from first place to out of the race. He lost control of his car in tight racing with Ross Chastain and hit the wall. He finished 33rd.

Kyle Larson — Larson fought the good fight with the more dominant Fords much of the day in the top 10, but his car was damaged in a crash with Aric Almirola. Larson parked and finished 31st.

Long: One lap, 30 seconds of action with so much at stake at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. — As they began the final lap of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski led Christopher Bell by a car length. Joey Logano ran third, with Corey LaJoie on his rear bumper in fourth, and Tyler Reddick beside LaJoie in fifth.

So much was at stake over the final 1.54 miles and would be determined in the next 30 seconds on a brisk day at a track that looks like an intermediate speedway but races like Daytona and Talladega. 

Here’s what mattered for each:

  • Keselowski sought to end a 66-race winless streak that stretches nearly two years.
  • Bell looked to score his third win in the last nine Cup races, which would have been more than any other driver in that span.
  • Logano sought a win in a season that Fords have had few chances to do so.
  • LaJoie was focused on winning his first Cup race.
  • Reddick looked to earn his first victory with his new team.

It started with Keselowski, who is in his second year as owner-driver at RFK Racing. The organization fought through struggles last year before teammate Chris Buescher won the Bristol night race. 

Keselowski was going for his first Cup victory for his team in what has been a markedly better start to this season compared to last year.

“You need days like this,” Keselowski said afterward. “You just wish they were wins. We were right there, just didn’t come together at the end.”

Bell is proving to be the under-appreciated ace in the Cup series. 

He twice needed to win to advance in the next round of the playoffs last year — and did so. Both victories were overshadowed. The focus at the Charlotte Roval was on Chase Briscoe eliminating Kyle Larson from the playoffs instead of Bell’s win. Ross Chastain’s video game move was the talk of Martinsville instead of Bell’s triumph that day.

Nobody had won this year in Cup except Chevrolet drivers. That made this a key race for Ford and Toyota drivers. 

“We haven’t had the start to the season we’d want or hope for,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano. “The West Coast swing was pretty rough on us. We had speed at times, but not really where we need to be on any of those tracks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.

“We know the speedways with all the aero changes to all the manufacturers, the speedways are probably the strengths for the Fords right now. I think we saw that in Daytona as well. If you look at qualifying (Saturday), that will probably point to that same sign.

“We have to take advantage of these races right now. If this is our strength, we got to make sure we execute. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, is we were able to come here and get the win. Now we’ve really have to squeeze hard to get more speed out of our cars on the downforce tracks.”

LaJoie finished fifth in this race a year ago and was passed for the lead with two laps to go. He entered Sunday’s race winless in 204 career Cup races. He had three top-20 finishes in the first four races of the year, solid performances for his Spire Motorsports team. He’s gained some attention for those efforts.

“If we have a good car like we saw at Fontana or Las Vegas,” LaJoie said earlier this week of his 14th at California and 20th at Las Vegas, “then I can go get the job done and be up front. So, certainly a crucial beginning part of the season for me with the future of my career. I want to make sure people know what I’m capable of, no matter whether it’s an intermediate or a short track or superspeedway.”

Reddick is in his first season with 23XI Racing and it has been a rough start to the season. He was eliminated by accidents in the first two races of the year. He scored his first top 10 of the year last week at Phoenix and looked for even more Sunday.

It is what all those situations hovering as the white flag waved to begin the final lap.

The key moment came with LaJoie planted on the back of Logano’s rear bumper on the inside lane.

“Joey got such a huge run down the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “There was nothing I could do to stop it other than wreck all of us.”

Logano said that LaJoie “clobbered me at the start/finish line, gave me such a big run.”

That energy allowed Logano to go from the bottom lane to the top lane — while narrowly slipping between Keselowski and Bell.

“When you get a run like that on the last lap, you can’t lift, you just can’t,” Logano said. 

He knew he needed to move up the track to avoid having Keselowski block him on the bottom lane.

“I had to get up there and slip to his outside,” Logano said. “Ultimately, that’s the move that was going to win the race.

“If I got to his inside, you have a chance, maybe a 20% chance of winning the race depending on what kind of push you get down the backstretch. Most likely we were not going to win the race.”

He did and Keselowski finished second.

“We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it just matters how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way at he end and he made a good move,” Keselowski said. “Kudos to him. We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of, so I’m proud of that.

Bell finished third and was left to wonder what if.

“I had the position (Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top,” Bell said. “To come so close is disappointing.”

LaJoie finished a career-best fourth.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” LaJoie said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

For Reddick, a day that started with John Hunter Nemechek on standby because Reddick wasn’t feeling well, ended with Reddick scoring his second consecutive top five.

“I was trying to create an opportunity to where myself Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin could all break away and take advantage of momentum,” Reddick said. “It didn’t quite work out timing-wise where it needed for that. All in all, an OK day.”