Denny Hamlin won his second straight Daytona 500, but the victory was subdued after Ryan Newman’s car flipped as they raced toward the checkered flag.
About a football field from the finish, Newman led the race only to get turned by Ryan Blaney. Newman’s car flipped, then got hit directly on the driver’s side as it skidded on the track upside down.
As Newman’s car crashed behind them, Hamlin beat Blaney to the finish.
Rescue crews worked for minutes after the crash to extricate Newman from the car and he was transported to a local hospital where his Roush Fenway Racing team said he was in serious condition with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening.
Newman was blocking Blaney as they came to the finish line and got turned into the wall before the car went upside down.
Hamlin initially celebrated the win in the moments after crossing the finish line but was subdued in victory lane. He immediately asked about Newman on his radio after taking the checkered flag.
“I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are,” Hamlin said after getting out of his car. “But number one, we're praying for Ryan. Worked really well with Ryan through this whole race, and obviously he got turned right there.”
Hamlin said after the race he didn’t know the true severity of Newman’s crash until he was informed by Fox after he celebrated in the infield.
“Bumpers hooked up wrong and turned him,” Blaney explained. “I hope he’s alright. It looked pretty bad. Definitely just trying to push him to a win.”
The crash to end the race was one of many that filled the race’s final laps.
A huge crash took out nearly 20 cars with just fewer than 20 laps to go. More wrecks followed, as drivers jockeyed for position to win NASCAR’s biggest race.
After multiple wrecks, it came down a two-lap sprint to the finish. Chase Elliott hit the wall on the final lap, but NASCAR kept the race green as the finish unfolded.
Why Blaney was trying to push Newman
The draft has always been an integral part of succeeding at Daytona. Multiple cars lined up together go faster than one car does by itself. And you can go even faster when you push the car ahead of you.
Hamlin did that successfully with Newman in the next-to-last green-flag run. He pushed Newman way out in front of everyone else and then made a pass for the lead.
Blaney was clearly trying to do something similar with his fellow Ford driver as Hamlin in his Toyota was racing them for the win.
But we saw throughout the previous nine days at Daytona that pushing a car ahead comes with a ton of risk. The crash with just fewer than 20 scheduled laps to go happened when Joey Logano pushed Aric Almirola into Brad Keselowski. The push from Almirola didn’t hit Keselowski perfectly square in the back bumper and it sent Keselowski into the wall and triggered a pileup.
The same basic thing happened as Blaney tried to hook up with Newman. The contact he made with Newman, the 2008 winner of the Daytona 500, wasn’t just exactly right — it’s hard to do that so perfectly when you’re hurtling toward the checkered flag at nearly 200 MPH. And Newman’s car careened into the wall.
You can’t fault Blaney in the slightest for making the move he did. Pushing drivers ahead of you is the nature of the game at Daytona with the cars so close together because of NASCAR’s rules limiting their horsepower.
The final stage was full of crashes
The race was relatively calm through the first two stages. But that 19-car crash triggered by Logano’s bump of Almirola with 16 scheduled laps to go was the first of four cautions for crashes in the race’s final 24 laps. And that doesn’t count the crash that involved Newman at the finish.
A two-car crash followed that wreck three laps after the race got restarted. Then a nine-car crash happened on lap 200 of the 209-lap race when Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain made contact entering turn 1. That crash resulted in a second post-crash red flag.
The 209 laps mean the race is the longest Daytona 500 in history. It was also just the second 500 that had been finished on Monday because of rain. The race was pushed to Monday after two rain delays and just 20 laps of racing on Sunday.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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