By Sterling Siemens
The 2019 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series season officially took the green flag this past weekend in Daytona, Florida with the 61st renewal of the Daytona 500.
Denny Hamlin captured his 2nd win in the Great American Race, snapping a 47-race winless streak and leading a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3 finish. Hamlin dedicated the victory to J.D. Gibbs, the son of car owner adn former Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs. J.D. Gibbs, who recruited Hamlin to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, passed away last January due to complications from a degenerative neurological disease at age 49.
Hamlin was followed by teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones, in second and third respectively. Busch won the first stage and ran up front for most of the day, while Jones overcame fuel pressure issues and narrowly avoided a 21-car pileup with ten laps to go.
Joey Logano carried the day for Ford in the Mustang model’s cup debut. The defending series champion had the fastest car all throughout Daytona Speedweeks. He was in prime position to challenge for the win, but without any drafting help on the last lap, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion faded to 4th place.
Roookie Ryan Preece, the New England modified racer driving for JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 47, had the highest finish out of the Daytona 500 rookies, making two highlight reel-worthy maneuvers to avoid crashes in front of him en route to an 8th place finish.
There were also cars that dominated Sunday, but finished with a less-than-ideal result. While the JGR Toyota Camry’s were near the front of the field throughout the afternoon, it was the Toyota of underdog Matt DiBenedetto who earned the most attention. The California native led 49 laps in his debut with Leavine Family Racing, a team that formed a technical alliance with JGR in the offseason. DiBenedetto appeared set to contend for the win, only to get turned by Paul Menard near the front of the field setting off the big one, which eliminated most of the field.
Pole sitter William Byron also left his mark. The reigning rookie of the year led 44 laps and showed signs of why Rick Hendrick signed him to drive at NASCAR’s top level last year. Unfortunately for Byron, his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 got caught up in the middle of a wreck not of his own doing on the first overtime attempt.
Overall, after a tumultuous 2018 plagued by poor racing quality and CEO Brian France’s DUI, NASCAR needed an entertaining start of 2019 to make up for a Speedweeks marred by little to no passing or side-by-side racing, as well as mixed reception for the aerodynamic package that will be run on most of the intermediate tracks this season.
What fans and viewers received on Sunday was an unexpected surprise: a Daytona 500 that could kickstart another entertaining season of NASCAR.
Edited by Garrett Jones | @firstname.lastname@example.org