Gibbs team gets emotional win says Roger Diez
Except for a few fairly minor incidents and one pit road multi-car situation caused by brain fade, the Daytona 500 was relatively calm last Sunday. Until 10 laps to go. Then all hell broke loose, twice. Two red flags and the field reduced to 19 of the 40 starters as they took the green flag for the final overtime restart. Michael McDowell was in third, and my $10 bet on him at 2000/1 was looking pretty good. But despite the Ford power everyone had counted on all week, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas lined up and powered to a 1-2-3 finish, led by Denny Hamlin for his second Daytona 500 win. In the wake of J.D. Gibbs’ recent death, it was an emotional result for the team. Behind the three Toyotas were the Fords of Joey Logano and McDowell, with the next six spots going to Chevrolets. There was hardly an undamaged car still on track, and a meme going around with a flatbed full of crushed cars purporting to be the race’s aftermath got a lot of play on the internet.
Hamlin is only the 12th driver in the Daytona 500 twice. Others who have accomplished the feat are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Sterling Marlin, and Bill Elliott. Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon won it three times each, Cale Yarborough has four victories, and the King, Richard Petty, has taken an amazing seven Daytona 500 checkered flags.
Atlanta is coming up this weekend, with Las Vegas on deck. Only six of the current crop of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers have visited victory lane at Atlanta. Jimmie Johnson leads the pack with six wins, most recently in 2016. Kurt Busch has three Atlanta victories, with the most recent in 2010. Defending winner Kevin Harvick has two wins, as does Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski has one win, in the spring of 2017, and Denny Hamlin’s lone victory came in the fall race of 2012. Hamlin has some momentum from his Daytona 500 win, but the cars for non-restrictor-plate races are different from those to be run at Atlanta. It’s a whole new ballgame.
I picked a Ford to win at Daytona, and based on the results I still think the Fords are going to be strong this year. But the Chevy Camaros have come a long way from 2018, as evidenced by their 1-2-3-4 qualifying results at Daytona. But Atlanta will be a much better indicator of what will happen the rest of the season than Daytona was. For one thing, teams will be coming to grips with the rules package that will be used at the majority of the tracks on the schedule. The biggest change is the use of a tapered spacer to reduce horsepower from the 750 they’ve been used to down to around 550. Aero changes include a taller 8” by 61” rear spoiler, a 37” radiator pan tapering to 31”, and a 2” front splitter overhang. However, Atlanta and four other intermediate tracks won’t use the aero ducts, which will be used for the first time at Las Vegas next weekend.
Hopefully the storms currently moving across the country will allow the race to be run as scheduled, but we may be watching it on Monday instead. Get your DVR ready just in case.