Denny Hamlin won his second straight Daytona 500 and third overall, beating Ryan Blaney in an overtime photo finish marred by a terrifying crash that sent Ryan Newman to the hospital on Monday.
Newman had surged into the lead on the final lap when Blaney’s bumper caught the back of his Ford and sent Newman hard right into the wall. His car flipped, rolled, was hit on the drivers side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line engulfed in flames.
It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken directly to a hospital, and the damage to his Mustang was extensive. It appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved.
Drivers were stricken with concern, including a rattled Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman’s car as it was flipping.
“Dang I hope Newman is ok,” he posted on Twitter. “That is worst case scenerio and I had nowhere to go but (into) smoke.”
Hamlin is the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win consecutive Daytona 500s, but his celebration in victory lane was subdued.
I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are and number one, we are praying for Ryan, said Hamlin, who was unaware of Newman‘s situation when he initially began his celebration.
It wasn’t until Fox Sports told him they would not interview him on the frontstretch after his burnouts that Hamlin learned Newman‘s incident was bad.
“It’s a weird balance of excitement and happiness for yourself, but someone’s health and their family is bigger than any win in any sport,” he said. “We are just hoping for the best.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs apologized after the race for the winning team celebration.
“We didn’t know until victory lane,” Gibbs said. “I know that for a lot of us, participating in sports and being in things where there are some risks, in a way, that’s what they get excited about. Racing, we know what can happen, we just dream it doesn’t happen. We are all just praying now for the outcome on this.”
Runner-up Blaney said the way the final lap shook out, with Newman surging ahead of Hamlin, that Blaney locked in behind Newman in a move of brand alliance for Ford.
“We pushed Newman there to the lead and then we got a push from the 11 … I was committed to just pushing him to the win and having a Ford win it and got the bumpers hooked up wrong,” he said. “It looked bad.”
Nascar gave no immediate announcement on Newman’s status and officials moved bystanders away from the crash scene.
“Ryan Newman has been helped from his car by the AMR safety team, loaded into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital,” Fox announcer Mike Joy said on the broadcast. “That’s all the information we can provide at this time.”
Fox analyst Jeff Gordon added that “it was a phenomenal race all the way until we came into the trioval there. Safety has come a long way in this sport, but sometimes we are reminded that it is a very dangerous sport. Thoughts and prayers right now are with Ryan Newman and his family.”
Hamlin had eight Ford drivers lined up behind him as the leader on the second overtime shootout without a single fellow Toyota driver in the vicinity to help him. It allowed Newman to get past him for the lead, but the bumping in the pack led to Newman’s hard turn right into the wall, followed by multiple rolls and a long skid across the finish line.
Hamlin’s win last year was a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing and kicked off a yearlong company celebration in which Gibbs drivers won a record 19 races and the Cup championship. Now his third Daytona 500 win puts him alongside six Hall of Fame drivers as winners of three or more Daytona 500s. He tied Dale Jarrett, who gave JGR its first Daytona 500 win in 1993, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trails Cale Yarborough’s four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.
This victory came after just the second rain postponement in 62 years, a visit from president Donald Trump, a pair of red flag stoppages and two overtimes.
Nascar’s season-opening showcase event resumed Monday – without the president, the clouds, the long lines and most of the crowd – following Sunday’s false start, where rain halted the event after 20 laps with pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr out front the entire way.
Forty-five minutes before the race resumed, the public address announcer told fans they would give the traditional command for drivers to restart the engines. “You guys will be the grand marshals,” the announcement said.
Firesuits hung all over the garage Monday drying in the sun after the Sunday night soaking spoiled Nascar’s biggest day of the year. At entrances around the speedway, where fans were stuck in security lines for hours a day earlier, Nascar executives thanked those who returned for more racing. Ben Kennedy, great-grandson of Nascar’s founder, was even assisting with bags searches at one checkpoint.
When the race finally started under caution, the leaders pitted for fuel and fresh tires with Brad Keselowski moving to the front for the official restart.
The mood was dramatically different from a day earlier, when 11.2m viewers tuned in to Fox Sports to watch president Trump give the order to start the engines. The network said it was a 32% increase from the start of last year’s race and best since 2015.
But the rain began moments after Trump and his motorcade completed a ceremonial lap around the apron of the famed speedway. As the caravan pulled off the track, the sky opened and the race did not begin.