This year’s Daytona 500 was enjoyable race through and through. While the finish was not particularly close with Denny Hamelin beating out Kyle Busch by at least a car length to take the checkered, it did involve many intriguing storylines throughout its entirety. The 500 could be characterized by two distinct halves. One portion of the race was surprisingly unexpected, and the second portion of the race resembled what is expected when drivers start to take more chances.
Prior to the start of the Daytona 500, much was ado regarding the quality of racing. The Xfinity series race the day before consisted of primarily single file racing as the outside was the preferred lane. The Clash the week before also involved a great deal of single file racing. Some analysts thought that this would be the case for the 500 while others were quick to quell concerns with the fact that there would be a stronger desire to run up. Thankfully the latter were correct, as the racing was predominantly two wide with drivers jockeying for the chance to move to the front. Matt DiBenedetto was a highlight for most of the race as he looked like a serious threat to challenge for the win. Ryan Preece was another driver who seemed promising for a quality finish. Yet, this was not to be the case for either driver.
The latter portion of the race was mired by continuous wrecks and dashed hopes. Over half of the field were involved in a wreck in some capacity when the checkered flag waved. Drivers such as William Byron, DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski were unable to survive to the end of the race. With only ten laps left, DiBenedetto got sideways as a result of close contact with Paul Menard. The Big One collected eighteen drivers with most of them having ridden up front all day. Chase Elliott had the misfortune to be involved in a couple of wrecks, which was a disappointing result for NASCAR’s most popular driver.
At the end of it all Denny Hamlin won out. Perhaps it was a fitting tribute to late J.D. Gibbs, after his battle against a neurological disease ending last month. It was an emotional moment for the entire Gibbs family, and considering that J.D. Gibbs recruited Denny Hamlin, it must have been especially memorable for him. Not only did Denny Hamlin manage to win the Daytona 500 for the second time, but Joe Gibbs racing had a 1-2-3 finish with Kyle Busch and Erik Jones finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. All in all, it was a fantastic filled with quality racing, and could be a glimpse of a promising NASCAR season to come. However, it was unfortunate that so many drivers fell victim to the pack racing of a Super Speedway.