Michael McDowell reflects on David vs. Goliath effort at Daytona

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In many ways, Sunday’s final lap of the Daytona 500 was a classic David vs. Goliath situation for Michael McDowell.

There was McDowell as David, in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang, doing battle with the Goliath likes of eventual winner Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

Although Logano complained post-race that McDowell should have pushed him on the final lap, as they both drive Fords, McDowell chose to push Busch’s Toyota instead, hoping for an even higher finish than the fifth-place showing he scored.

McDowell was on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s On Track with Danielle Trotta and Brendan Gaughan Tuesday afternoon and talked about his finish, what he might have done different, and Logano’s post-race seething.

MORE: Bump & Run: Should Michael McDowell have pushed fellow Ford at end of Daytona 500?

McDowell made it very clear that he was going for the win, and whether or not that may have hurt Logano’s feelings, he was more concerned about seeking the best finish in his Cup career – and potentially his first win.

“You know you’re not going to have 100 opportunities to be in the top three or four of the Daytona 500 and have a shot at winning the race,” McDowell said. “I was just laying everything on the line.”

While he admitted he “wasn’t able to keep the momentum going and pull it off” on the final lap, McDowell said he was caught up in the moment and was battling perhaps as hard as he ever has in a race.

“You’re fighting as hard as you can just to stay wedged up in that top five, and knowing you have some really fast cars around you, you go on both offense and defense,” McDowell said. “We didn’t quite have the outright speed we needed to be a line leader, so to speak, so you’re guarding the front and back and trying to keep yourself wedged up in there and not spit out.

“Coming to the white flag, I was on the outside kind of by myself a little bit, and I knew eventually they were going to fan out. I was able to get some big momentum on the back straightaway. You watch the replay 100 times and say, ‘Man, I wish I would have done this, this or this.’ But in the moment, you make your decision and stick with it. It’s great to get out of there with a top five.”

When asked about the criticism from Logano about not pushing a fellow Ford driver, McDowell broke things down into two parts: the race, and the post-race.

“It’s the last lap of the Daytona 500, I don’t care who’s in front of me,” he said. “I would love to tell you I was that smart and strategic and I was thinking about all the drivers and manufacturers and who to go with and who not to go with, but I’m not, I’m fighting my tail off just to stay wedged up in there. That’s the reality of what happened on the racetrack.

“The off-track part is where my comments came from and why I was upset. Joey was livid that I didn’t go with him. He was talking he was driving a Ford, brand loyalty, pointing to the blue oval and I get it. If I could have, I would have loved to do it.

“It all sounds good in a fairy-tale world, but in reality, I made the decision I made and it was the last lap of the Daytona 500. It is what it is. I wasn’t crying when Clint Bowyer put me three-wide on the back straightaway. I’m a Ford, I’m leading the pack, stay with me. That’s not racing. So I take it with a grain of salt, emotions are high and everybody’s wanting to win and we were all going for it. I’m sure Joey would have loved for me to push him, but it just didn’t work out.”

It was McDowell’s second-best career finish at Daytona. His best effort there was a fourth-place finish in the July 2017 Coke Zero 400. In 16 career starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, McDowell has two top-fives and four top 10s (all in his last six starts there).

“Somebody told me I had 6 or 7 top 10s at Daytona and I said, ‘No way, you’re out of your mind,’” McDowell said. “But over the years, it’s just worked out well for me there. I love plate racing and superspeedway racing and I’ve grown to enjoy it.”

McDowell’s Daytona performance boosts his confidence. He believes his first in Cup could pbe coming.

“That’s what’s cool about our sport, you’re only one race away,” he said. “You’re one race away from being in the playoffs, you’re only one race away from winning the 500, and you’re only one race away from locking down another great sponsor and making your program better. Every race counts, every opportunity counts. It’s just a matter of making the most of it.”

“There’s opportunity in the first five to 10 races (with the new rules package intended to tighten the field) that if you get a late-race green-white-checker restart, you weasel your way into the top five, you can put yourself into a spot like we were in at Daytona. I don’t think that was possible last year. The speed differential between the haves and have-nots was so big that you weren’t going to sneak a win.

“I really do believe that there’ll be surprise winners this year and some crazy, exciting finishes. I do look forward to it.”

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Ryan: The inside story of the secret deal that changed the Daytona 500

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The communication was inherently awkward because how often do these guys talk anyway? They race in the same series, but they certainly aren’t buddies.

Yes, they might share the goal of winning the Daytona 500, but the agendas for how to achieve that were quite different. It was understandable a powder keg of emotions might be triggered by the typically capricious chain of events set off by a restart at Daytona International Speedway.

How surprising instead that it turned out so well.

Who would have thought Chevrolet and Toyota would work harmoniously together Sunday?

Oh, wait: You thought we meant the postrace contretemps between quasi-teammates Michael McDowell and Joey Logano?

Yes, that was among the most delicious subplots to emerge from the 61st running of the Great American Race. The fact that the only two Ford Performance drivers left didn’t play nice in the closing laps of the season’s biggest race had tongues wagging. Ford’s cohesion had been the key to its success.

But while those allegiances fell apart, an unholy alliance between unlikely bedfellows thrived.

In a Saturday morning meeting, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing (with help from Toyota Racing Development) hatched a plan to battle Ford’s 12-car squadron that had dominated Speedweeks (sweeping the top three of most qualifiers Thursday) and much of restrictor-plate racing for the past year.

Though some of the key players declined to be identified, it isn’t difficult to glance at the rosters for Hendrick, JGR and Toyota and find some obvious ties. There are several names who have worked in at least two or all three camps (in some cases).

And it was those previous liaisons that helped lay the groundwork for Hendrick and Gibbs drivers drafting together in the Daytona 500 – even if it felt weird for many of the principals.

“I’m texting HMS crew chiefs the night before and we’re talking about strategy, and it’s like, ‘What in the world is going on here?’” Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long during his Monday morning champion’s breakfast at the track. “It’s just crazy that you’re sleeping with the enemy.”

It was by necessity.

Though Chevy actually had more drivers in the field than Ford, Hendrick and Richard Childress Racing never have been simpatico at plate races. Toyota has only five drivers – Gibbs’ foursome of Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones – and Matt DiBenedetto of Leavine Family Racing.

Denny Hamlin leads a pack of cars during the 61st Daytona 500. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

And it seemed to work: Unlike the Thursday qualifying races and The Clash (and many plate races last year) when Ford drivers seemed to control the draft at will with long lines of cars, their fleet of Mustangs couldn’t get organized as well Sunday.

In Stage 2, a six-car train of three Toyotas (DiBenedetto, Busch, Jones) and three Chevys (Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, William Byron) went long on pit stops to control the pace. The pack was two- to three-tenths of a second faster than the field and put some good cars a lap down.

Though several late crashes effectively defused the teamwork in the closing laps, the strategy was a huge disruptor. Hendrick and JGR/Toyota teams communicated through spotters and other channels to help make life more difficult for the Fords.

“We both understood that there were powers in numbers and the disadvantage that both of our organizations had had, us being the manufacturer and them being just the four of them,” Hamlin said. “It was tough for them to have enough Chevrolets that are competitive to go up and run with them that the best bet for us was, ‘Look, we’re not going to go out of our way to help each other, but we’re not going try to screw each other either. Work together with strategy.’

“They had a great strategy plan in play that was going to be working great until a few cautions fell here and there. Certainly, it was good to work with those guys and not only that, those were all drivers and crew chiefs I trusted, so when we put that plan together to work together, I was confident that it would play out well.”

The result was the JGR Toyotas notching the second 1-2-3 team finish (Hamlin, Busch, Jones) in Daytona 500 history and the first since … Hendrick Motorsports in 1997 (Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Ricky Craven).

It appears they had more in common than they realized.


The restrictor-plate era ended with a literal bang – too many bangs, actually.

In the final race with the plates that had been used for 30 years to choke down airflow to the engines and reduce speeds at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway (where cars are more inclined to sail into the grandstands), there were three multicar pileups and two red flags in the last 20 laps as world-class drivers made inexplicably poor decisions and maneuvers. The 40 minutes of stoppage time helped ensure a larger audience in prime time but also an excruciatingly choppy finish as the final 15 laps took nearly 90 minutes to complete.

“I was actually looking at the (clock) on the dash,” Hamlin said about sitting in his No. 11 during the first red. “It was 5:40 (p.m.), and I’m looking at the scoreboard, and I’m like, ‘Wow, at 6:15 we’re going to know the end of this race.’  And I look, and I’m like, ‘At 6:30 we’re going to know the end of this race.  We’re sitting under red flag, and I just see the ticker just going, like, ‘At 6:50 we’re really going to know who won this race.’

“It was crazy how long it took.  I’ve seen five laps take an hour before, but the track was just an absolute mess.”

This is partly something to address for NASCAR and the track because long cleanups have been a problem in past Speedweeks.

But the biggest takeaway from the final demolition derby plate race was underscoring the unavoidable mayhem – and colossally dumb mistakes — as the checkered flag approaches.

“Pretty much,” Kyle Busch said when asked whether a wreck-filled ending was inevitable after the relatively clean 475 miles before it. “Brains come unglued.  That’s all it is. The brain connection to the gas pedal foot doesn’t quite work the same anymore.  There’s a lot of give and take throughout the beginning portion of the races, and then it comes down to the end, and somehow some way there’s always that caution within 30 or 40 to go that sets everybody off pit road and then it’s chaos after that.”

Said Logano: “Yeah, you know it’s coming.  And especially this race, you know what’s on the line.  It’s the Daytona 500.  No one is really worried about points or getting themselves into the playoffs yet.  Everyone is thinking, I want to win the biggest race of the year, and like Kyle said, the brains come unglued.”

So, farewell – or maybe good riddance for some — to the plate era … but this is only a nominal change. With tapered spacers still being used to keep horsepower in check, it’s extremely likely the April 28 race at Talladega Superspeedway will look familiar. And if not, NASCAR will tweak the rules to ensure it does (as it did with tandem racing in 2011).

Stuck with those parameters, it might be too much to ask NASCAR stars to be mindful that memorable races are built on sublime driving, and provided that no one is hurt, it probably is better to have too many crashes than too few (based on the reaction to the single-file racing prevalent at Daytona the past 10 days).

But it would be nice if the end of the plate era also put a period on the absurd displays of driving witnessed during crunch time Sunday.


Both NASCAR and some of its manufacturers are optimistic the Gen 7 car can be rolled out by the 2021 season.

There is some industry skepticism about that timeline for the new model. Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson told NBC Sports there needs to be blueprints for the Gen 7 “within the next 30 to 45 days” and track testing needs to begin by the end of summer.

“I think we’re behind as an industry,” Wilson said Sunday. “NASCAR is in the process of collecting feedback across the industry. They’ve systematically been talking to every team in the garage this weekend. They’re assimilating that feedback. We’re putting together an action team with NASCAR. We had a meeting early (Saturday) morning (with the manufacturers) from a process perspective about how we work together. The good news is we have a bit of a template that we use for Gen 6.

“We’re still behind. We’ve got to make up the ground somewhere. If you look at everything you have to contemplate with this car – safety, testing, manufacturing. The scope of the change to the hardware is going to be massive.”

But the benefits will be worth it. Wilson, who said momentum began for the project in August at the beginning of CEO Jim France’s reign (“The biggest driver and clear leader behind this is Jim France. He has a quiet, understated passion for making this happen.”), believes the next car could bring a bevy of new automakers to NASCAR.

“In 10 years, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t have six or seven manufacturers,” Wilson said. “You look at sports car racing. Our Lexus program is we’re racing against seven to eight manufacturers. We compete in the showrooms every day. Why can’t it be the same thing on the racetrack?

“But it’s going to be a journey. I’m not absolutely certain we’ll get there by ’21.”

For a frame of reference, the Gen 6 car made its debut in 2013 season after NASCAR and manufacturers begin discussions in early ’10.


In a SiriusXM interview during Daytona 500 Media Day, NASCAR president Steve Phelps framed the 2020 schedule speculation in a new way. Phelps said the tracks won’t change, but the focus will be on whether races “will be in the same order” and when the season will begin and end.

Track presidents met with NASCAR executives for more than three hours last week at Daytona and were given some basic parameters for a robust schedule discussion: The Daytona 500 must be in mid-February, the Coca-Cola 600 will remain on Memorial Day weekend, and the Southern 500 stays tied to Labor Day weekend.

Virtually anything was considered fair game after that. There were throwback ideas being considered that could move a warm-weather race or two to late January or early February, ahead of the Daytona 500. The Great American Race has been the opener since 1982 but was the season’s second or third race for the first 23 years of its existence (1959-81).

Though Daytona will maintain its traditional calendar regardless of whether there it’s preceded by other race, there has been recent conjecture about a Speedweeks shake-up (which certainly could use fewer “dark” days at the track).

Here’s the view from this corner last year on that front with one addendum: It might be time to rethink the truck series at Daytona, and this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to last Friday’s race that set a record for yellow flags (11) and caution laps (55).

Of the 20 truck races held at Daytona since 2000, 15 have been run under caution for at least 25 percent of the race. Though 26 of 32 trucks were involved in crashes last Friday, it was the fourth time in eight years more than two dozen trucks sustained damage. In 2012, 29 of 36 trucks were in wrecks.

New Smyrna Speedway is just down the road … again, it’s just a thought.


While NASCAR’s top three national series kicked off this past weekend, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series remains nearly two months from starting its eighth season with the April 13 opener at Valencia, Spain. Its 2019 schedule of seven events is drawing a bevy of attention, though, after 2000 champion Bobby Labonte competed last year in the series (which was won by two-time Cup champion Alon Day, who also has made two Cup starts.).

Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 champion, will run full time this season in NASCAR Whelen Euro.

The series also has drawn serious interest from a recently retired former Cup champion and many drivers in lower series for the 2019 season.

“We don’t have anything finalized, so we can’t announce who we’re talking with yet,” series executive Joe Balash told NBC Sports. “But we’ve had conversations with multiple drivers from multiple garages who want to race in the series.”

The Whelen Euro series also had a driver exchange last year with the Pinty’s Series in Canada and is exploring a similar arrangement with the Peak Mexico Series. The European circuit, which also races in England, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, is an attractive option because it’s relatively inexpensive.

As a spec stock-car series, it costs roughly $100,000 US to run the full slate, which features two divisions of two races per weekend. Teams also can field two drivers of different rated skill levels (similar to the GTD division of IMSA).


Chase Elliott’s Speedweeks was mostly forgettable as far as results (eighth in a Thursday qualifier was his best). But as far as living up to his persona, no one was more a man of the people than the reigning most popular driver.

Hendrick Motorsports’ emerging star gave the fullest effort to spice up action that often was single file on the 2.5-mile oval.

Whether futilely trying to gain positions in the Xfinity race (he gave a wave to the crowd and said “Sorry” after finishing 10th), furiously battling for positions in the qualifier, or aggressively trying to stay toward the front in the Daytona 500, Elliott was the lone driver who refused the groupthink that had cars hugging the wall for much of Speedweeks – and proudly proclaimed he did it for the legions wearing his gear (while subtly throwing some shade at those he was racing).

“Hey, if they are going to ride around the top all day long, I’ll be happy to try the bottom and at least make something happen for the great people that are watching up here in the stands,” Elliott said Thursday.

Last month, crew chief Alan Gustafson said even he didn’t realize how much a 98-race winless streak had worn on Elliott until he broke through last August with the first of three victories in 2018. Elliott, 23, seems more comfortable in his own skin than ever, and Daytona was a good example of how.

The pressure is off, and now the public is seeing more of an emerging star it can’t seemingly love enough. That’s a good sign for NASCAR – particularly if Elliott can develop a more defiant and outspoken public side that his father never embraced.


To get an understanding of why Jim France’s leadership style has been so widely praised, contrast his brief message to drivers before Sunday’s race with the last time a NASCAR CEO issued a similar directive at a Daytona 500 drivers meeting.

It probably wasn’t as long ago as you think.

Before the 2017 Daytona 500, Brian France admonished the field for 90 seconds about blocking in a curious rant that even his executive team struggled to explain. It also was unusual because Brian France (who stepped aside for his uncle last August after being arrested for a DWI) usually avoided addressing competition. When he did, it sometimes lacked for clarity (seemingly because his marketing background sometimes got in the way).

Jim France’s simple and succinct ask (“I hope a few of you drivers out there will get down on the bottom with Denny and Chase and put on a good show today.”) was indicative of his understated style that has drawn raves and resonated around NASCAR.

This might have been another example: Roughly two and a half hours later, the green flag dropped on an action-packed Stage 1. Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM that the hard racing probably would have happened anyway, but the drivers “listened to (France) like he was God.”

Did France’s words have an impact on how drivers raced the Daytona 500, which opened with the best 60 laps of Speedweeks?

It’s impossible to know for sure.

The only thing that probably matters is that he said it.

What Drivers Said after the Daytona 500

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Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the final restrictor plate race in NASCAR history — and with three wrecks in the final 17 laps that helped determine the race’s outcome — drivers were their typical, aggressive selves as things came down to the finish line and Denny Hamlin took the win.

Here’s what drivers had to say after the race at Daytona International Speedway:

Denny Hamlin, winner: “This is amazing. I don’t want to tear this one up because I want to put it back in my house. I’m just going to enjoy it more (than his 2016 Daytona 500 win). I think I was so dumbfounded about everything that happened the first time with the photo finish and everything. This one lets me soak it in a little bit more. I’m going to have a terrible hangover tomorrow, but I’m going to enjoy it the rest of my life. … Proud of not only our team, but (teammate Kyle Busch’s) team as well and having a great shot at the Daytona 500. I know this was as close as he came. He was a great teammate all day and we worked well together.”

Kyle Busch, finished 2nd:I just was trying to work on a run with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and you can never trust those behind you so they all scattered and went around me and I had to work my way back up there. Just wasn’t meant to be today obviously. It’s frustrating for sure. We had a great car. (We were) trying to make sure at least one of us got to victory lane, first and foremost. After that you try to go race it out and see what you can do for yourself and for your team. There wasn’t enough cars out there really. There was six cars running at the end. I don’t know that anything would’ve been any different really if anything would’ve materialized. I think we all would’ve been stuck side-by-side given if I would’ve been on the outside or something like that. It’s so hard to tell. I don’t know how it would’ve played out, but I’m not going to worry about it.”

MORE: Click here for Daytona 500 results, NASCAR Cup point standings

Erik Jones, finished 3rd:It was a weird day. The Sport Clips Camry had a lot of speed in it early and we kept finding ourselves towards the front. We were up there where we wanted to be with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) and I’m like, ‘Man, we’re in a great spot to get to the last 15 laps or so and race for it.’ I don’t know. We just lost fuel pressure and we came to pit road and came back. We didn’t change anything, fired it up and went back. Got back on the lead, got caught up in a wreck and got pretty significant amount of damage and we were just trying to get it fixed enough to get minimum speed. As more of the race happened and more and more people wrecked we found ourselves upfront. A day of never giving up and never giving in and it worked out great. It’s definitely the most perseverance I’ve had in a race in NASCAR. I had a lot of fun.”

Joey Logano, finished 4th: “I actually felt like we had the car to beat and just couldn’t get there. It’s so hard to get to the front. Once I got to the front I felt like we had a really good car, but I had a good push from behind with the 47 (Ryan Preece), which is pretty cool. We’re both from Connecticut and we raced quarter-midgets against each other, so I thought it was really neat to be working together in the Daytona 500. How neat is that? So it shows you that dreams can come true for little kids, so that was pretty cool.”

Michael McDowell, finished 5th: “Yeah, there’s always things you could do differently. We just didn’t have the speed to break the plain of 18 (Kyle Busch) or the 11 (Hamlin). We were trying like heck, but so was everybody else. When the 18 shot to the outside there he had a big run, a lot of momentum and I tried to go with him to hope that the 18 and the 11 would get together and maybe I’d sneak a win out of it. It just didn’t work out. … We would have loved to pull into Victory Lane, but a top five is great.”

Ty Dillon, finished 6th: “It feels good. I’m just really proud of our effort. God is good. It wasn’t really me driving this thing. I would leave it up to him to get me through those wrecks and boy that was fun. I had a blast tonight. What a great way to start our year with our GEICO Camaro. I’m really proud to be the top finishing Chevy at the very first race of the year. So that’s a great way to set the tone.”

Kyle Larson, finished 7th: “It was a pretty smooth race there until the very end. I got a tire rub and blew a left-rear and crashed. The second time me and (Ricky) Stenhouse got together and I wrecked. The third time, I got on the brakes really hard and spun and about crashed. My car is super beat up so to come away with a top 10 is pretty cool.”

Ryan Preece, finished 8th: “It’s intense, man. It’s something I’ve never been a part of. So, I have a lot of learning to do, for sure. Today was the type of day that you just wanted to race around these guys and not be erratic and not do anything stupid and hopefully when we go to Talladega or come back to Daytona, I can get a little bit more help.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished 9th:I’ve never been hit like that on pit lane. That was the start of the craziness. I don’t know if that kept us out of trouble and got us a good finish or what, but certainly not something that we were anticipating. That just set off a chain reaction of events from there. There is a lot to manage that last 30 laps from an issue with trying to get the fueler neck in place to fuel the car, which resulted in a penalty. Getting those two laps back, working on the car multiple times, multiple crashes, for a first true race together as a group, a really, really brilliant day.”

Alex Bowman, finished 11th:We were just kind of credited with a finish there. It was a bummer. We had over the wall too soon (penalty) and that put us behind. We got back to second and I kind of poked my nose out there for the lead at the wrong time and got shuffled and we were running third or fourth; and then the No. 20 (Erik Jones) ran out of fuel pressure right in front of us and just kind of buried us. From then on everybody’s brains went out the window and we just started crashing the rest of the night.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 12th: “A lot of wrecks. We got a flat tire. We got in a good spot with about 20 or so to go and I guess the 20 car ran out of fuel or something and the line failed and went all the way to the back. And then we got caught up in two wrecks not of our making and just never can get anything to go our way on these deals. I’m confident when they do we can win them. We don’t have to have good luck, but we can’t have all the bad luck we’ve been having.”

Austin Dillon, finished 16th: “We had a shot, but it is what it is. Daytona is really hard to position yourself to miss those wrecks and we didn’t do a good enough job to position ourselves like we did last year. I wish we could have missed that big one. Maybe if we were in the bottom lane, but I just think it happened so fast you needed to be up front. This has been a great process… it’s not over for us at Daytona we are going to come back and win this thing.”

Chase Elliott, finished 17th: “I didn’t really see much of anything. I think Clint (Bowyer) was just sliding up the track and I was in the outside lane, I really had no other option other than just to hit him. I had a huge run, I just didn’t have anywhere to go with it. We crashed I think four or five times, finally finished us off. It’s crazy what these things come down to and just survival, it’s crazy. The bottom (definitely) was a faster way around and I think once the power in numbers got down there it certainly showed that. I wish we could have just made it to the end.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 20th: “Hey, it is the Daytona 500, I had to go for it. I was a little bit frustrated with the lineup. I know I was ahead of the 22 (Logano) when the caution came out but I guess it went back to the last scoring loop or something. It seemed like the lineup had trouble all night long. This just sucks, man. We had such a good Rush Truck Centers, Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. This is my best foot forward I have ever had here. We had a shot at it and I took it. I had a big run on the 34 (McDowell) and knew that I had to make quick work of him because in the mirror they were going three-wide and losing their minds so you knew that was going to come down on ya. So I decided to lose my mind too.”

William Byron, finished 21st: “We were pushing the No. 22 (Logano), we were in sixth and made a good recovery. We had some damage from the previous wreck. That kind of hurt us a little bit, but we were able to restart sixth after missing the first wreck and the No. 34 (McDowell) just got hooked right or got loose right and slammed me in the door and that hooked me to the left and then I was just part of the meat sandwich after that.”

Jamie McMurray, finished 22nd: “Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end. It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end. … (On this being his last Cup race:) I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did. I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega Speedway, racing was a little different in my mind.”

Matt DiBenedetto, finished 28th: “It was just a racing deal (his wreck with Paul Menard). Nothing intentional. I have a great relationship with Paul. I think he was trying to sneak to my outside but wasn’t quite there and when he bumped me it just clipped my right rear and turned me in the wall. Just a racing deal. Nothing we can do about it. We had one hell of a day going. I’ll tell you that. The car was fast and I’m so darn thankful that Toyota, Procore my sponsor, Leavine Family Racing – I don’t know if everyone understands how big of a chance they took on taking me and I will be forever thankful. I have an amazing crew chief with Mike Wheeler and great people around me. We showed what we are here to do so we accomplished a lot. Led the most laps, had a fast race car so I’m thankful for that, but I’m not going to lie I’m pretty heartbroken.”

Paul Menard, finished 29th: “I am not really sure what happened. I hooked the 95 (Matt DiBenedetto). I was trying to get to his outside and he was kind of in the middle and he went to the outside and was going back and forth. The 12 (Blaney) had a big run so I jumped up in front of him and hooked the 95. I am not sure what really happened there. I will take the blame for that one I guess. We had really fast Fords. I sped on pit road and got us behind. We had to play catch-up. We had a shot there at the end though. It was time to go. It is frustrating that we have to put ourselves in that position to race this way. I had a big run with the 12 pushing and barely nicked the 95 and he got sideways. I tried backing off, but wrecked a lot of cars.”

David Ragan, finished 30th: “I just saw someone get turned in front of me a couple of rows. That is a product of speedway racing, pushing and being that aggressive at the end of a race. You have guys blocking and you have guys coming fast. That is just the way it is. Unfortunate that we were in the wrong place at the right time but we were up in the top-10, where we needed to be to try to win the race and sometimes things just don’t fall your way.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 31st: “We were racing the heck out of each other tonight. There wasn’t one bit of single-file racing. I thought it was a good race. It was exciting and it was a lot more intense to drive in tonight than what it has all of speedweeks. That is good. That is what everyone wanted to see. I thought our Mustang was really fast. We had a good run down the back and I think a couple guys were trying to push and got squirely and next thing I know I am in it. That stinks for Menards and Peak. I thought we had a good shot when we won that stage. We will just go on to Atlanta.”

Aric Almirola, finished 32nd: “Last year, taking the white flag with the lead with emotions high and feeling like you have a great shot to win was worse. Tonight we were about 10th or 12th and with 10 laps to go, a lot can play out, a lot can happen. It didn’t feel like we were as close right there. Still disappointing. You never wanna come down here and wreck out of the Daytona 500. You want a shot in the final closing laps. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the right position tonight.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 33rd: “The car was fast.  We were running in the top 10 pretty much the whole day and challenged for the lead.  We gained some stage points. Everything was going very well. I mentioned on the radio many times that one big wreck was going to happen and I wanted to make sure I was going to stay out of it.  With 10 laps to go it’s not like you can just hang out and wait for it. It’s time to go and unfortunately, we just got caught up in someone else’s mistake.”

Daniel Hemric, finished 34th: “You know you get that accordion effect corner entry and I just saw the No. 95 (DiBenedetto) get turned, at that point just kind of a road block. You are trying to make moves, but you are going so fast and everybody is trying to gouge to get to the end of the race and just no where to go. … I thought we would be in good shape there the next to last restart before the crash. We were lined up sixth and we just got hung up pushing a car that had damage and just started dragging the whole top lane back. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but the guy who got crashed was also running in the top five. You never know how it’s going to go, but at the end of the day count our blessings and move on and then go to Atlanta and start racing.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished 35th: “Yeah, we knew (the crash) was going to come, just hemming and hawing over when to go and when not to go. We finally decided to go before that last caution. We got 10 spots or so and were in good shape. Got a couple more on the restart and then all hell broke loose. It’s just Daytona. That’s the way it is. … We just kind of chilled out and tried to take care of our car and everybody did a good job of not wrecking most of the day and so when it was time to go we didn’t have track position and then like I said all hell broke loose and it was right in front of us. Just plate racing. Just the way it goes.”

Matt Tifft, finished 36th: “It was definitely getting crazy on that restart. Everyone knew it was time to go with 10 to go. So you knew it was going to be crazy. We were stuck in the middle, three-wide. I don’t know. I thought I saw the 95 or someone get turned up front and I just couldn’t see after that. I tried to get on the brakes but I couldn’t see anything and we were right in the middle of it. That is about it.”

Chris Buescher, finished 37th: “A lot more eventful than we wanted our (Daytona) 500 to be. … I can’t thank our team enough for the hard work put in over the off season for all our sponsors and for Kroger coming on board and really buying into our program, making this fun. To go out there and have an issue early on and to recover back and we kind of knew where we were at. We were towards the back after that recovery and it wasn’t worth going to the front yet. You knew the wreck was coming, you just expect it to come a lot earlier. With single digits laps to go it’s time to go and you just take that risk. The best I saw two or three rows in front of me all I saw was the No. 95 car sideways and it just piled in from there.”

Denny Hamlin holds on to win second Daytona 500

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Denny Hamlin stayed ahead of three wrecks in the final 17 laps — including a 21-car crash — to hold on for an overtime win in Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

It was Hamlin’s second win in The Great American Race in the last four years, having also taken the checkered flag in 2016. He led a 1-2-3 Joe Gibbs Racing finish with Kyle Busch second and Erik Jones third.  Joey Logano and Michael McDowell finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

“What happened here is really unreal,” Joe Gibbs said to Fox, referring to the memory of his son J.D., who passed away last month. “I’m emotionally shot …. I’m just saying, what happened here is really unreal. …. I think J.D. had the best view of everything.”

MORE: Click here for Daytona 500 results, NASCAR Cup point standings

Said Hamlin, who got his break with Joe Gibbs Racing from J.D. Gibbs: “The whole family, they’ve done so much for me over the course of my career. This one’s for J.D. We’re desperately going to miss him for the rest of our lives. His legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing.”

It was Hamlin’s first NASCAR Cup win since Darlington in 2017, snapping a 47-race winless streak.

Although he earned his highest career finish in the 500 (previous best was third in 2016), Kyle Busch failed to win the 500 for the 14th time in his career, leaving him somewhat disappointed.

“It’s awesome to see a JGR car in victory lane for Joe and J.D. and everything that’s gone this offseason with all that, but it’s bittersweet … for all my team guys and us and trying to get our Daytona 500 victory,” Busch said. “(Hamlin) has two and I’ve got none, but that’s a part of it sometimes. We just have to move on and go to the next time.”

Ty Dillon finished sixth, followed by Kyle Larson, rookie Ryan Preece, Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain.

On Lap 191, the seemingly inevitable Big One occurred. Paul Menard bump-drafted Matt DiBenedetto, triggering the massive wreck that brought out a red flag race stoppage.

Another seven-car wreck occurred on Lap 194 involving Ricky Stenhouse, Alex Bowman and teammate Chase Elliott, among others. And then with two laps to go in regulation time, the race was sent to overtime after another wreck.

This was the final restrictor plate race in NASCAR history. Tapered spacers will replace plates at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Busch. Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney.

Who had a good race: Even though his day ended 17 laps short of the finish due to being caught in a 21-car wreck, Matt DiBenedetto (finished 28th) had a great debut for Leavine Family Racing, leading a race-high 49 laps. … And then there was Ryan Preece’s outstanding 8th-place finish in his Daytona 500 debut.

Who had a bad race: Bubba Wallace, who finished second in last year’s 500, finished 38th Sunday after being involved in a wreck. … Daniel Hemric was parked for the final 17 laps after driving after the red flag fell following the Lap 191 crash.

Notable: Jimmie Johnson was penalized two laps after being assessed an illegal fueling penalty following a wreck on the entrance to pit road on Lap 159. NASCAR ruled that the fueler, who is allowed only to fuel the car, took part in repairs, which is not allowed. Johnson rallied to make up the two-lap penalty to finish ninth.

Quote of the day: “It just felt like it was one of those days when it was meant to be.” — Denny Hamlin.

What’s next: The NASCAR Cup Series moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.

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Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace, 4 others involved in early wreck at Daytona

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The first major incident of Sunday’s Daytona 500 occurred on Lap 49 when six cars were involved in a wreck coming off Turn 2 at Daytona International Speedway.

Kurt Busch appeared to be hit in the left rear by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., even though Stenhouse said on his team radio that he did not touch Busch’s No. 1 car.

Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick were also involved, as well as Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray, making his last NASCAR Cup appearance of his career.

All drivers took their cars to pit road for repairs.

The race returned to green conditions on Lap 54.