DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The tribute to Joe Gibbs’ late son was planned days ago. Denny Hamlin provided another as he held off teammate Kyle Busch to secure his second Daytona 500 in a crash-filled race Sunday in which less than half the field finished.
J.D. Gibbs, Joe Gibbs’ eldest son, died in January after a battling a rare degenerative neurological disease. He had been a longtime team executive and served as a crew member of Joe Gibbs Racing’s first Daytona 500 victory, with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel in 1993. On Lap 11, crew members held up a banner to honor J.D. Gibbs, the same number he wore as a football player at William and Mary and the same number of Hamlin’s Toyota.
“He meant a lot to me and it’s hard for me not getting choked up because I’ve been choked up about 100 times about it,” Hamlin said. “Just to have (J.D. Gibb’s widow) Melissa and all the kids here, it’s just crazy. Joe and his whole family and what they’ve done for my career – to bring them back to victory lane again is just amazing.
“This one is for J.D. We are desperately going to miss him the rest of our lies,” Hamlin said. “His legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing and (I’m) proud to do this for them.”
Erik Jones finished third, making it a JGR sweep of the top three spots. It’s the first time in more than two decades the same team finished 1-2-3.
“What happened here is really unreal,” said Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach and longtime NASCAR team owner, as he walked down pit lane in a televised interview. “J.D. had the best view of everything.”
Joe Gibbs is no stranger to succes, having won championships in both NASCAR and the NFL, but Gibbs said Sunday’s victory was in a class by itself.
“It’s the most emotional and biggest win I’ve had in my life – in anything,” said Gibbs, who led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl wins.
The race was scheduled for 200 laps on the famed 2.5-mile trioval before a series of wrecks and two red flags for cleanup pushed the race into overtime.
A mass of vehicles skidded down the back stretch, sparks flying on Lap 190. In total, 21 cars were collected as safety crews responded. All drivers exited their cars under their own power as the rest of the field was parked for the red flag.
Paul Menard’s car hit the rear of Matt DiBenedetto’s car, and the two began a chain reaction that crashed out a good chunk of the field.
“I’ll take the blame for that one, I guess,” Menard said in a broadcast interview after he exited the infield care center.
Ten cars were forced out of the race due to wreck as others gathered in were able to continue. It took 25 minutes before the race restarted with Busch out front.
Then, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s car collected Kyle Larson’s car on the restart after the delay, causing another caution as at least four other cars were damaged.
There were 14 cars left on the lead lap and 19 overall after a crash on Lap 198 as Clint Bowyer and pole-sitter William Byron came together.
That wreck brought out the 12th caution and, eventually, second red flag as the cars were parked again to set up overtime.
Hamlin jumped out to a quick restart and never looked back.