With the car of Ryan Newman sliding upside-down trailing sparks behind him, Denny Hamlin joined elite company on Monday night in the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history.
Hamlin beat Ryan Blaney to the finish line at Daytona International Speedway by .014 seconds, and while the driver of the No. 11 celebrated with a burnout on the infield grass, the emergency crew worked to extricate Newman from his No. 6 Ford, which came to rest on its roof at the end of the tri-oval.
Hamlin—unaware of Newman’s predicament when he started his burnout—went to a subsequent subdued Victory Lane celebration as the winner of two straight Daytona 500s and three of the last five, tying him for third with Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon in number of victories in the Great American Race.
Newman was helped from his car and taken by ambulance directly to nearby Halifax Medical Center. In a statement from Roush Fenway Racing read later by Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, Newman’s condition was described as serious, but his injuries were not life-threatening.
In the rain-delayed event that proved to be the longest Daytona 500 in history (209 laps, 522.5 miles), Newman held the lead off Turn 4 at the end of the second and final overtime. Newman blocked the charging Team Penske Ford of Blaney, and contact between their two cars launched Newman’s car over the hood of Corey LaJoie’s Ford.
The No. 6 Ford landed on its roof and slid Across the finish line toward Turn 1, after Hamlin—in the only Toyota still on the lead lap—edged Blaney by inches.
“Yeah, I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are,” was Hamlin’s first thought after climbing from his car. “But number one, we're praying for Ryan. Worked really well with Ryan through this whole race, and obviously he got turned right there.
“Proud of our whole FedEx team. I don't even know what to say. It's so unexpected. I mean, I knew they (Blaney and Newman) were going to come with a big run there. My job was to just make sure I didn't put a block that was going to wreck me, live to race another corner.
“We got to (Blaney’s) bumper, got to pushing him there, and I knew I was going to give him a big run, and it was going to… the race wasn't over, and obviously, it worked out well for us at the end there.”
Hamlin is the fourth driver to win back-to-back Daytona 500s, joining Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95).
Behind Hamlin and Blaney at the finish were Chris Buescher, Newman’s teammate at Roush Fenway Racing; David Ragan, fourth in a one-off after retiring from full-time racing; and Kevin Harvick. Newman was credited with a ninth-place result behind Bowyer (sixth), Brendan Gaughan (seventh) and LaJoie.
Blaney was more concerned with the well-being of his fellow competitor than his razor-thin runner-up finish to Hamlin, who also recorded the closest Daytona 500 finish when he beat Martin Truex Jr. by .010 seconds in 2016.
“We pushed Newman there to the lead, and then we got a push from the 11, and I made a move off 4 on Newman and he blocked it, and I kind of went low and he blocked that, so then I was committed to just pushing him to the win and trying to have a Ford win it.
“And I don't know, we just got bumpers hooked up wrong and turned him. I hope he's all right. Definitely was trying to push him to a win. I don't want to say, ‘Those things happen.’ I feel really bad about it. Man, but close one. But I hope Ryan is all right.”
The race resumed on Lap 21 after rain delayed the proceedings for a day. Chase Elliott won Stage 1, and Hamlin triumphed in Stage 2, before, in typical fashion, the intensity ramped up in the closing laps.
A chain-reaction crash that started when Joey Logano bumped Aric Almirola into Brad Keselowski on Lap 184 involved 19 of the 37 cars still in the race and eliminated Keselowski, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (likely making his last Daytona 500 start).
A nine-car wreck in Turn 1 on Lap 199 KO’d Logano and Almirola and forced overtime. The first set of extra laps had scarcely begun when a three-car incident in the tri-oval saw Michael McDowell and Clint Bowyer spinning through the infield. That wreck set up the second overtime and the drama at the finish line.