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Denny Hamlin wins as crashes mar NASCAR season opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – How the 61st annual Daytona 500 played out Sunday at Daytona International Speedway:

WINNER: In a closing stage marred by big wrecks, Denny Hamlin outlasted his competitors and teammates to win his second Daytona 500.

Hamlin led a top-three sweep for owner Joe Gibbs, whose son J.D. Gibbs died last month after a neurological disease. Gibbs was overcome with emotion at race’s end.

Hamlin held off Kyle Busch and Erick Jones in the second overtime three years after he edged Martin Truex Jr. in the closest Daytona 500 finish in history.

The ‘Big One’: A mass of vehicles skid down the back stretch, sparks flying on Lap 190 of a scheduled 200-lap race. In total, 21 cars were collected as safety crews responded. All drivers exited their cars under their own power as the race rest of the field was parked for the red flag. Paul Menard hit the rear of Matt DiBenedetto, the two cars 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. DiBenedetto said Menard’s maneuver “wasn’t anything intentional.” Ten cars were forced out of the race due to wreck as others gathered in were able able to continue. It took 25 minutes before the race restarted with Kyle Busch out front. 

A smaller one: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into the back of Kyle Larson on the restart after the delay, causing another caution as at least four other cars were damaged. 

And then there were 19: 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. The wreck that took out several other cars. The wreck brought out the 12th caution and, eventually, second red flag as the cars were parked again to set up overtime.

Cautions Nos. 8 and 9: Kyle Larson spun out in Lap 180 after his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet appeared to have a rear tire go down. He managed not to collect any other drivers. Brad Keselowski, a past Cup champ seeking his first Daytona 500, spun out on Lap 186. Denny Hamlin was out front after both caution periods. 

Pit road trouble: Cody Ware and BJ McLoed – two drivers making their Daytona 500 debuts – were several laps down when they spun out near the entrance to pit road on Lap 160. Ware’s vehicle skid into pit lane where it hit Tyler Reddick, another rookie, and then Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Reddick’s car slammed into seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson, which tore up the driver’s side rear quarter panel on Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsport Chevy. Johnson was two laps down when the race restarted after the eight-lap caution.  Stenhouse was able to remain on the lead lap. 

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Busch led 27 en route to winning the first stage of the 2019 season, which spanned the first 60 laps of the race and is worth 10 additional points in the season standings. 

Stage 2 winner: Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney secured the second stage. On the pit stop after the stage, a pit crew member pulled off a $5 bill from the grill of his No. 12 Ford. 

First multi-car wreck: Kurt Busch, the 2017 Daytona 500 champ who was making his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing, spun out near the end of the first stage. Replays showed that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got near Busch’s rear bumper before Busch lost control. Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMcMurray were also involved in the sequence that brought out the second caution of the day. All cars remained in the race. 

JD Gibbs tribute: On lap 11, crew members held up a banner to honor JD Gibbs, the co-founder and team president of Joe Gibbs Racing who died last month after a four-year cancer battle. JD Gibbs wore No. 11 when he played football at William and Mary and Joe Gibbs Racing fields the No. 11 driven by Denny Hamlin.  “JD lives on,” Hall of Fame football coach Joe Gibbs said on Friday. “He lives on in us, those four boys, his family, and all those that he’s touched. … This is a close-knit family in a lot of ways, and so many people have stepped up to help us. I can’t thank you enough.”

Edelman, Watt take in 500: New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and Houston Texans linebacker J.J. Watt each had duties before the race. Watt, the race’s grand marshal, became the first NFL player to give “drivers, start your engines” in race history. Edelman was the race’s honorary starter – something several current and former NFL players have done in year’s past – as Edelman waved the green flag to signal the start of the 500. “I think these guys are absolutely insane,” Edelman, the MVP at Super Bowl LIII earlier this month, said before the race. “First and foremost, they’re going 200 miles an hour around for three hours straight and (are) able to focus in extreme conditions.”

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Foyt back at DIS: A.J. Foyt took to the dais in the media center before the race. “It’s nice to be back instead of the funeral home,” joked the racing legend, whose been attacked twice by killer bees on his Texas ranch since 2005. Foyt, 84, wasn’t able to hear some of the questions offered up, something he attributed to damage done after years of racing. He explained, in a way only Foyt could, why he doesn’t use anything to enhance his hearing. “I hate hearing aids because when you take a leak, it sounds like 100 gallons of water running,” Foyt quipped. Foyt and Mario Andretti are the only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, although Foyt is the only one to seize those two races along with the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Foyt retired from driving in 1994 and is a longtime IndyCar team owner, although he said he doesn’t do much these days in that role. “I go in when they need money or to raise hell,” Foyt said. 

Follow A.J. Perez on Twitter @byajperez

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