Denny Hamlin captured his second straight Daytona 500 victory on Monday, but his victory took a back seat to the drama that unfolded behind him as he crossed the finish line.
The race, which started on Sunday but was postponed due to rain, concluded on Monday on the second overtime attempt. Denny Hamlin led the pack into the final lap, and despite a crash in turn one, the race continued.
Hamlin was passed by Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney in turn three, but coming down the front stretch, Blaney spun Newman into the wall allowing Hamlin to overtake both and secure the win in the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history.
Despite the close finish, the most stunning moment at the end of the race was the crash endured by Ryan Newman.
After being turned around by Blaney, Newman violently collided with the outside wall of the track, which caused his car to flip on its roof. Once overturned, Newman’s car was struck by the car of Corey LaJoie, causing it to go airborne and flip again, eventually landing on its roof for a second time. Newman, who began to crash near the start of pit road, slid to the end of pit road before his car finally came to a halt.
Newman’s car then became engulfed in flames, which were quickly put out by NASCAR officials, and was eventually turned back over onto its wheels.
While Newman was being tended to by NASCAR and medical officials, Hamlin was the focus of the FOX broadcast and was shown performing donuts in the infield grass in celebration.
Many thought Hamlin to be inconsiderate given the situation with Newman, but he cleared up the story with a tweet later that night, sending prayers to Newman and saying:
“I had absolutely NO IDEA of the severity of the crash until I got to victory lane. There’s very little communication after the finish and i had already unhooked my radio. It’s not anyone’s fault.”
NASCAR canceled its traditional victory lane celebration due to the crash, and everyone’s attention turned to Newman. With every second he remained in his car thoughts of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his tragic crash at Daytona in 2001 began to run through the heads of race fans everywhere.
NASCAR crews had to cut the car open to extract Newman, and once out he was immediately transported to Halifax Medical Center.
LaJoie offered his perspective on the crash in an interview with WSOC TV the day after the race.
“I didn’t even know who I hit, or where I hit him,” LaJoie said. “All I saw was just smoke and then a big thud, and I knew I had to get out of that thing as fast as possible because it was on fire.”
On Monday Newman’s race team, Roush Fenway Racing, released a statement on his condition, saying that he was in serious condition, but did not have life-threatening injuries.
In the following days the team continued to update Newman’s condition, saying on Tuesday that he was awake and speaking with others, and on Wednesday that he was greatly improving and even joking around with those around him.
Later on Wednesday, the team reported that Newman had been treated and released from the hospital, and shared a photo of him exiting the facility while holding hands with his two daughters. The team also announced that there is no timetable for his return.
Ross Chastain will fill in as the driver of the No. 6 car in the NASCAR Cup Series while Newman recovers from the crash.
After a tumultuous and emotional first week, drivers and spectators alike hope to rekindle the fun and excitement of NASCAR this weekend as all three of the sport’s premier racing series head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for three races.
Storylines and notes heading into Las Vegas
- Joey Logano is looking to win his second straight Pennzoil 400, while Martin Truex Jr. is attempting to win his second Vegas race in a row. Logano won last March in the Pennzoil 400 while Truex Jr. won last September in the South Point 400.
- This will be the third straight year that Las Vegas has two races on the Cup Series schedule. The South Point 400 is the second race and will take place on Sept. 27. It is the fourth race of the NASCAR playoffs.
- Ford has dominated recently at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The manufacturer has won five of the last eight races at the track and three of the last four. It also holds the record for most wins overall at the track with 11.
- There are five drivers from Las Vegas set to participate in the three races across the weekend: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brendan Gaughan, Noah Gragson, and Riley Herbst.
- NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson will make his last two trips to Las Vegas this season before retiring at season’s end. The seven-time champion currently holds the record for most wins all-time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with four and will look to win for the first time in Vegas since 2010.
Race schedule for Las Vegas
Friday, Feb. 21 at 6:00 PM PST: NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series-Strat 200 | TV: FS1
Saturday, Feb. 22 at 1:00 PM PST: NASCAR Xfinity Series-Boyd Gaming 300 | TV: FS1
Sunday, Feb. 23 at 12:30 PM PST: NASCAR Cup Series-Pennzoil 400 | TV: FOX