Denny Hamlin emerged victorious at the Daytona 500 on Monday night, winning the iconic NASCAR race for a third time, but it was overshadowed by a string of frightening crashes — including a fiery wreck that sent Ryan Newman to the hospital.
Newman flipped several times; his car ultimately crossed the finish line engulfed in flames. Fortunately, his injuries were not life-threatening, according to NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell. Roush Fenway said Newman, who was racing for the organization, was in serious condition.
Hamlin became the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win “The Great American Race” in consecutive seasons. His 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.
Hamlin joined 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 — along with Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trailed Cale Yarborough’s four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.
“I just feel like I’m a student to the game. I never stop learning and trying to figure out where I need to put myself at the right time,” Hamlin said. “It doesn’t always work. We’ve defied odds here in the last eight years or so in the Daytona 500, but just trust my instincts, and so far they’ve been good for me.”
As Newman went door-to-door with Ryan Blaney for the finish — the 0.014 margin of victory was the second closest in race history — Newman took a wild ride along the track when he crashed trying to hold onto the lead.
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 driver’s side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line in flames.
NASCAR officials moved bystanders away from the crash scene. Newman reportedly was extracted from his car and taken directly to a local hospital by ambulance. The damage to the Mustang of Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner, was extensive. It appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved. Safety workers rolled Newman’s car back onto its wheels before he was removed. It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels.
The Newman crash made for a somber victory lane.
Hamlin was unaware of Newman’s situation when he initially began his celebration.
“I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are and number one, we are praying for Ryan,” Hamlin said.
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. It looked bad,” he said.
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.
The 0.014 margin of victory was the second closest in race history, and Hamlin’s win over Martin Truex Jr. in 2016 was the closest finish in race history. That margin of victory was 0.01 seconds. The win in “The Great American Race” is the third for Toyota, all won by Hamlin.
The Daytona 500 resumed Monday after the race was postponed for just the second time in 62 years, following rain delays. NASCAR was committed to running its version of the Super Bowl, regardless. Monday marked the third time the Daytona 500 ran on Presidents Day, the other two in 1959 and 1970.