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Denny Hamlin Wins 61st Daytona 500 Five Weeks After Loss of J.D. Gibbs

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 17: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Toby Christie         

Denny Hamlin held off Kyle Busch and Joey Logano to win the 2019 Daytona 500. The win erases a 47-race win-less drought for the Virginia native, but more importantly the win comes five weeks after Joe Gibbs Racing’s co-founder J.D. Gibbs passed away after a battle with a degenerative neurological disease.

In a wild race that featured 14 caution flags, including a massive 21-car pileup on lap 191, Hamlin, 38, kept his car clean all race long. In the closing laps, Hamlin was chasing his teammate Kyle Busch for the lead.

On lap 199, Hamlin has barely edged the nose of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry ahead of Busch’s car when another eight-car melee ensued. This gave Hamlin the lead and ultimately control of the race in an Overtime finish.

Hamlin was able to fend off last-lap challenges from Busch and Joey Logano to score his second win the the Daytona 500.

Following Hamlin across the line were Busch and Erik Jones to score an emotional 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“As far as the Gibbs family, it’s just great to — hearing that Joe and everything that he has accomplished in his life, I mean, he’s an NFL Hall of Famer, Super Bowl champion, and saying that this is the biggest win of his career is just special, and it’s just special for me to be able to deliver that to him in a special way,” Hamlin said. “I know he would have been happy with any one of his cars going out there and getting a victory, but obviously one with his son’s name on the door and number is probably a little more special.”

Darrell Waltrip winning the Daytona 500 on fumes in his 17th attempt in 1989. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Daytona in the first race at the 2.5-mile track after the passing of his father. Danica Patrick winning the pole at Daytona as a rookie. Magical things always seem to happen at Daytona.

Sunday at Daytona, through all of the carnage fate shined brightest on a team in mourning — Joe Gibbs Racing. How fitting is it that the driver who drives J.D.’s No. 11, who J.D. hand picked to drive the car won the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after his passing? You couldn’t write a better script.

“I’d just like to retrace for a minute what happened tonight, which is — it’s the most emotional and the biggest win I’ve ever had in my life in anything,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “J.D. built our race team, was the guy that ran day-to-day operations for 27 years.  He invested his occupational life in our race team.

“And as a part of that, he went up to purchase some late model stuff from Denny and struck up a relationship with Denny, put him in a test, put him in a truck, put him in an Xfinity car at Darlington, and finally he said, We need to sign this guy. And so that started the relationship and everything.”

J.D.’s decision to sign Hamlin has now produced two wins in NASCAR’s most prestigious race for JGR.

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