DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A particularly violent Daytona 500 ended with a repeat winner. Denny Hamlin crossed the finish line first, but all eyes were on Ryan Newman, whose Ford slid under the checkers on its roof and soon there after came to a stop in flames.
They waited until Monday to run the Daytona 500. Then waited some more. The Daytona 500’s prescribed 200 laps has come to look like a suggestion.
It’s certainly no mandate.
Yet again, overtime settled the Great American Race. Well, double-overtime.
With just a couple of mild scrapes, the first 100-plus laps Monday were clean and orderly, as if everyone was in a hurry to get to the late laps of the 500, when the heat is jacked to extremes and dreams are fulfilled and, literally, crashed.
Chase Elliott and Hamlin, no strangers to the lead pack, won the first two 65-lap segments of the 500, but the top 10 at any given time also included some “outsiders” looking to jumpstart their careers —Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Ty Dillon made a little noise.
Just about the time someone might say, “Hey, could we go the whole way without the Big One,” the Big One roars. On Lap 184, on the backstretch and up in the lead pack, Joey Logano gave a shove to the rear bumper of Aric Almirola, and Almirola in turn drove into the rear bumper of Brad Keselowski, whose car appeared a tad loose and was in no need of a shove.
Within a few blinks of the eye, 19 cars were caught up in the wreck and damaged to various degrees.
Kurt Busch was one of them and compared the wait for Daytona’s Big One to the spin of a roulette wheel. Keselowski, who was just behind leader Newman when he got sent out of control, described it as “a lot of kinetic energy there.”
Only Daytona, it seems, can defy language laws and have multiple Big Ones. So it was no surprise when another huge wreck erupted on Lap 199, just after Denny Hamlin passed Newman near the start/finish stripe for the lead. That one set up a two-lap overtime effort.
A fluke wreck at the start of overtime forced the second overtime that led to Hamlin’s win.
It was a wild finish to a day that started rather quietly.
Up to within a couple of hours of Monday’s resumption of the Daytona 500, the grandstands were almost entirely empty and the infield looked listless and less packed than it had in previous days.
The scene and vibe was something you’d expect the day after a race. And in a sense, it was, except it was also the hours before a race.
Within an hour of the 4:05 restart, the grandstands had started showing real signs of life and kept gaining humanity as the firing of engines grew close. As drivers climbed behind the wheel to strap in and await a group starting command from all in attendance, the frontstretch grandstands (101,500 seats) appeared to be at least 65% full, maybe more.
In the end, most, maybe all, must’ve left feeling fulfilled. As usual, while the end result might not have pleased one and all, no one should’ve left feeling cheated. The Daytona 500 continues to produce drama and theatrics, thrills and spills.
Unlike every year since 1959, no one left the grounds with a “See you in July.” The next time NASCAR darkens the Speedway’s doorway, it’ll be late August. The old Fourth of July staple has been transferred to Indianapolis, while Daytona’s summertime race will be the final race of the 26-race regular season, this year on Aug. 29.
In between, NASCAR will jump headlong into its long weekly grind, which will continue to mid-November. From Daytona Beach, the world’s premier stock-car racing circuit heads west for three weeks —to Las Vegas, Fontana (Calif.) and Phoenix.