By Taylor Long
In a speedweek dominated by Ford Mustangs, the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs racing stole the show.
Denny Hamlin led the Gibbs 1-2-3, in an emotional, but fitting tribute to JD Gibbs.
JD Gibbs was the son and business partner to Coach Joe Gibbs. He passed away earlier this year from “conditions related to brain function”. He discovered Denny Hamlin and recruited him to Gibbs Racing, making for a powerful moment in victory lane after the race.
Gibbs Teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones finished second and third respectively to complete the tribute to JD. The race opened, and many assumed the Ford Mustangs would continue to dominate, as they had in the Monster Energy Cup Series up to this point.
William Byron and teammate Alex Bowman were leading the field to the green flag, and looked to hold off favorites Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Harvick and Logano captured the qualifying Duel races on Thursday, and looked to be the early favorites. While the first 2 stages of the 500 were fairly calm, albeit exciting, underdog Matt DiBenedetto dominated, leading the most laps.
The third stage came, and clicked down until a pit road incident took out 7 time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. After the green flag dropped again, racing commenced until a massive wreck with 9 laps to go collected over a dozen cars.
Contact between Paul Menard and DiBenedetto triggered “The Big One” and took out race contenders Chase Elliot, DiBenedetto, Daniel Suarez and 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon.
The fireworks were not over yet, as just 2 laps later Ricky Stenhouse triggered another large wreck, trying to fit his Mustang into a hole that existed only in his mind.
A third large wreck that led to a red flag stoppage of the race was caused by Clint Bowyer getting turned into the side of up and comer William Bryon.
The final green flag saw only a dozen undamaged cars, with Hamlin, Busch, Logano, and surprising competitor Michael McDowell were all vying for the win. In the end, it came down to the Gibbs Toyotas, and Kyle Busch could not get the push he needed to pass Hamlin.
Busch has come up short in now 15 Daytona 500s, mirroring the late Dale Earnhardt. After the dust settled, Joe Gibbs referenced his late son by saying “What happened here is really unreal. I think JD had the best view of everything”.