Hamlin Repeats as Daytona 500 Champ for Toyota
Piloting a Toyota Supra, Denny Hamlin edged out Ryan Blaney’s Mustang by 0.014 seconds to win his third Daytona 500—and second in a row—in the second-closest finish in NASCAR’s opening race of the season.
The double-overtime race was completed on Monday after a rain-drenched Sunday that allowed only 20 laps to be run.
Newman in Critical Condition
A frightening crash on the final lap of the race muted the winning team’s celebration.
Ryan Newman, who was leading the race, was rushed to a local hospital after his Mustang was struck multiple times—including while it was airborne—after he was bumped from behind near the finish line. The car flipped several times on the track and caught fire.
Newman’s condition is said to be serious but not life threatening. There hasn’t been a fatality at Daytona since Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 race, which prompted several safety improvements.
The wreck involving Newman was one of several near the end of the race. On lap 184, a chain-reaction crash involved half of the remaining 37 cars running at the time.
This was followed by a nine-car wreck on lap 199 that forced overtime. A three-car incident prompted the second and final overtime. Of the 40 cars that started the race, 23 were running at the end.
Toyota Wins Again
The victory was Toyota’s third Daytona 500 victory, all with Hamlin behind the wheel.
Ford took the next five spots in this year’s race, led by runner-up Blaney. The top Chevy driver was Brendan Guaghan, who piloted his Camaro to a 7th-place finish.
Toyota has won the manufacturer’s championship in three of the past four years. Ford took the title in 2018.
Some 11.2 million people tuned into the start of the race on Sunday, marking a five-year high and a 32% increase over 2019’s event.
The increase is attributed in part to President Trump, who is extremely popular with NASCAR fans, serving as grand marshal.
Despite this year’s spike, viewership still is far below the 2006 peak of nearly 19.4 million people. As recently as 2013, when Danica Patrick started in the pole position, some 16.6 million people watched.
Searching for New Favorites
Part of the problem is that many of NASCAR’s most popular drivers have retired in recent years. The list includes Jeff Gordon (2015), Tony Stewart (2016), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (2017) and Patrick (2018). Jimmie Johnson, who has won the season championship seven times, is expected to retire at the end of this year.
Earnhardt won the most popular driver award 15 years in a row, second only to NASCAR legend Bill Elliot’s 16. Elliott’s 24-year-old son Chase has won the award the last two years.
Next-Gen Cars Coming
NASCAR hopes to jumpstart interest in the sport next year with the introduction of the next-generation Cup car.
To help reduce costs, all cars will be built on a common chassis (likely supplied by Dallara). Other planned changes include:
- An independent rear suspension
- Larger tires
- Carbon-fiber body in place of the current steel design
- New engine (possibly a hybrid V-6)
- New transmission (a 6-speed is rumored to replace the current 4-speed)
The changes are designed to improve performance, while making the race cars more like their showroom counterparts.
NASCAR also hopes the lower-cost architecture will help attract more OEMs to the sport. In addition to the current trio, BMW, Dodge, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan are said to be considering joining the circuit in coming years. However, some already have switched their focus to Formula E electric car races.
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