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Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?

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Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.

Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.

Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.

No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.

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The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.

Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.

Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.

LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.

The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.

The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.

2. Kyle Busch’s race to 200

A few numbers to digest in Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 NASCAR wins and more. He comes into this weekend with 199 and is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races.

— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)

— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.

— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).

— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.

— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.

3. So far so good on inspection

This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.

NASCAR announced before the season that any car that failed inspection would be dropped to last in the order. Any winning car that fails inspection will have that victory taken away.

So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.

That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.

In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.

In March 2017, NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined him $65,000 when Brad Keselowski’s car failed inspection after the race at ISM Raceway. NASCAR also docked Keselowski 35 points and the team 35 owner points. NASCAR penalized the team for failing the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station.

NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.

4. One or the other

Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.

They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

5. Extra work

ThorSport Racing drivers Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider will be racing this weekend even though the Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off.

They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.

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Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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‘Bizarre’ Daytona 500 marks Jamie McMurray’s likely final Cup start

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If Sunday’s Daytona 500 turns out to be Jamie McMurray‘s 583rd and final Cup start, then the race threw all it could at him as a going away present.

McMurray finished 22nd in what the Chip Ganassi Racing driver called a “bizarre” Daytona 500.

The 43-year-old driver had to start his 17th “Great American Race” at the rear due to a rear gear change. By Lap 19 in he was in 19th.

His day was complicated on Lap 50 when he was caught up in a six-car wreck, which damaged his right front fender. With repairs made to his No. 40 Chevrolet, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner continued.

Even with the damage, McMurray managed to navigate his way up to 10th by Lap 84.

He then led the field from Laps 164-169, with just the last two laps under green.

Then chaos reigned.

The final 20 laps saw three multi-car wrecks, but McMurray managed to avoid the ones that caught 21 and seven cars.

“Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green-flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end,” McMurray said. “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.”

But McMurray couldn’t avoid the last major wreck. While running eighth he was ensnared in a nine-car melee that resulted in the overtime finish. 

“I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did,” said McMurray. “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 (last April), speedway racing was a little different in my mind.”

McMurray will now transition to an analyst role for Fox Sports.

Should the native of Joplin, Missouri, never make another Cup start, he ends his career with seven wins, 63 top fives and 168 top 10s.

He exits the NASCAR stage after 581 consecutive Cup starts.

Next week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the first without McMurray since the Oct. 20, 2002 event at Martinsville Speedway. That was the race after McMurray scored a surprise first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge in substitution of an injured Sterling Marlin.

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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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