A bit of a different start for the ’19 season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin, who didn’t win a race in 2018, started the ’19 season with a victory in NASCAR’s biggest event.

For the second time since 2016, Hamlin won the Daytona 500.

It was messy and long and it ended well after sundown but none of that mattered to Hamlin or his crew or the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. This one was for J.D.

J.D. Gibbs, 49, the former team president, died last month from complications due to a degenerative neurological disease.

There were decals in his honor on the JGR entries and Hamlin had previously announced that he was dedicating this season to his friend and pledging $111 for every lap he leads to the J.D. Gibbs Legacy Fund.

The effort supports Young Life Ministry, a program in which Gibbs, the eldest son of team owner Joe Gibbs, supported and actively participated.

Sunday, Hamlin led 30 circuits around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. A nice start for a very good cause.

“The whole (Gibbs) family, they did so much for me over the course of my career,” he said.

• Toyota drivers swept the top three spots, Hamlin was trailed by teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones across the stripe, and that pretty much completed the cycle from a manufacturer standpoint.

Each of the three automakers had reason to bark about races here in Daytona. Toyota the loudest, of course.

A Chevrolet driver, Jimmie Johnson, won last Sunday’s Clash after Chevy drivers swept the front row in qualifying. Ford drivers Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick then won Thursday’s duel qualifying races.

• The race went into overtime, and overdrive, and by the time the checkered flag finally did appear, 207 laps had been run. That’s seven beyond regulation.

Not the longest, but six of the last 10 have gone beyond the 500-mile mark.

More bang for your buck. Literally.

• Overall it was a strange opening weekend for NASCAR. A Friday night Truck Series race saw only nine entries still running at the finish due to attrition, or maybe it was inexperience.

A day later, Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was uneventful to the extreme. Practice sessions provided more passing.

Sunday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race didn’t disappoint but it did remind everyone of how utterly insane restrictor-plate racing can be.

Blame the rules package or the drivers or the full moon. But it’s rarely pretty at the end.

Sunday’s race, the 61st running of the 500, made it past halfway with only three brief pauses in the action – only one of those involved a handful of cars.

Compare that with what was supposed to be the final 25 laps – but in reality was the final 32. Six cautions, two red flags and 29 cars wrecked, some on multiple occasions.

“Brains come unglued,” Busch offered. “That’s all it is.”

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