1. Sports

Tampa-born Denny Hamlin wins second Daytona 500

Tampa’s Aric Almirola was involved in the inevitable big one and finished 32nd.
Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Published Feb. 18
Updated Feb. 18

DAYTONA BEACH — Eleven laps into Sunday’s Daytona 500, Joe Gibbs Racing honored its late co-founder by unfurling a banner in memory of J.D. Gibbs.

Four-plus hours and eight crashes later, JGR came up with an even better tribute for the former team president who died last month at age 49.

Denny Hamlin — the Tampa-born driver J.D. discovered —withstood a crash-filled final few laps Sunday to win his second Daytona 500. He led a 1-2-3 finish for his team and took his No. 11 Toyota back to Victory Circle with J.D.’s name atop the car.

“The whole family, they’ve done so much for me over the course of my career,” Hamlin said. “This one’s for J.D.”

It was J.D., after all, who found Hamlin almost 20 years ago. Hamlin was selling late-model parts and struck up a relationship with J.D., which turned into a test and, eventually, a ride in NASCAR’s Cup Series.

RELATED: Tampa Bay ties remain strong for defending Daytona champ Denny Hamlin

Without that, there would have been no celebration here in 2016, when Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota edged Martin Truex Jr. in the closest finish in race history. And there would have been no celebration like the one JGR savored Sunday night at the famed 2 1/2 -mile tri-oval after Hamlin beat teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones for the first three-car sweep in the Great American Race since Hendrick Motorsports in 1997.

“What happened here, it’s unreal…” said team owner Joe Gibbs, J.D.’s father. “I’m just thrilled. I think J.D. had the best view of everything.”

The view everyone else got was of an eventful race that woke up a snooze-filled Speedweeks. The single-file parades that had plagued Daytona International Speedway gave way to side-by-side racing and, of course, wrecks.

The inevitable big one came with 10 laps to go and started when Paul Menard tapped Matt DiBenedetto, who had been the day’s biggest surprise by leading a race-high 49 laps.

“I’ll take the blame for that one, I guess,” Menard said.

By the time the crash ended, 21 cars — more than half the field — were collected, including the No. 10 Ford of Tampa’s Aric Almirola.

Fortunately for JGR, most of its cars were at the front, including Busch’s No. 18 Toyota.

Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, was leading at the first red flag and finally looked poised to complete the only major accomplishment that has eluded him.

It didn’t happen.

Busch chose the inside line after the penultimate caution — which is exactly what Hamlin preferred. Hamlin sped around his teammate to take the lead before the last wreck.

On the final restart, Busch let Hamlin jump inside with the hope of getting a push from behind to retake the lead. But with only 14 cars on the lead lap at the end, Busch never got the aerodynamic help he needed to get ahead of the 38-year-old Hamlin.

“Certainly bittersweet,” Busch said.

Just like the entire night for JGR.

RELATED STORY: Fennelly: Long season starts with Daytona 500, a race that would never end

J.D. Gibbs spent two-plus decades building the team from a startup into one of the best in the series. He helped Hamlin grow from a driver with nothing to an established Cup veteran with 32 career victories.

But he wasn’t around to see JGR dominate the end and Hamlin snap a 47-race winless streak.

Still, the team felt his memory was impossible to ignore. The driver he discovered won the biggest race of the year, with a car number (11) that was always his favorite, to accomplish something that hasn’t been done here in more than two decades. Even the fourth-place driver, Joey Logano, used to drive for him.

His father, a three-time Super Bowl champion coach, had never seen anything like it.

“It’s the most emotional and the biggest win I’ve ever had in my life,” Joe Gibbs said, “in anything.”

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.


  1. The Nationals' Victor Robles reacts as he crosses home after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of a Game 3 rout of the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. JEFF ROBERSON  |  AP
    Washington rolls to an 8-1 rout, is one game from World Series.
  2. Lightning, baseball playoffs and more sports on the air.
  3. Montreal Canadiens left wing Jonathan Drouin (92) takes a shot during the first period of a game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 3, 2019. GERRY BROOME  |  AP
    Also, Tampa Bay’s practice picks up in intensity after a day off ... and a lackluster showing on Saturday.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians walks on the field before Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers in London. ALASTAIR GRANT  |  AP
    And that’s especially true for turnover-prone Jameis Winston, who will remain the starter when Tampa Bay next takes the field Oct. 27 vs. the Titans.
  5. Since he entered the NFL in 2015, Jameis Winston has been responsible for a league-high 87 giveaways, including six Sunday. JEFF HAYNES  |  Associated Press
    Sunday was a tough day for the players taken at the top of the 2015 NFL draft. The Titans at least are realizing what the Bucs are denying: They have a quarterback problem.
  6. Georgia's D'Andre Walker (15) tackles Florida's Dameon Pierce (27) in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville last season. Times
    The Gators are still who we thought they were after the LSU loss. But Georgia...
  7. The Lightning's alternate "disrupt the night" jerseys will be back for weekend games at Amalie Arena this season. SHADD, DIRK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    “Disrupt the night” jerseys return for weekend games, starting on Saturday.
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) makes a touchdown catch against the Carolina Panthers during the fourth quarter Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. ALASTAIR GRANT  |  AP
    An ugly loss leaves a sour taste, and several players would like to get back on the field immediately to right the ship.
  9. The Rays posted this  message of appreciation on their Twitter account. RAYS BASEBALL  |  Twitter
    An ad in the Tampa Bay Times from the team and Twitter messages from players cap the season that included playoffs for the first time since 2013.
  10. Clearwater Central Catholic junior Kylie White, left and junior Aubrey Geis are gearing up for a long postseason run. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    Not much change at the top as teams head into postseason play.