DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Joe Gibbs Racing not only won the 61st annual Daytona 500 with driver Denny Hamlin, but teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones also made it a 1-2-3 sweep of the top positions by finishing right behind Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota. It was the first time a team swept the top three positions in the Daytona 500 since Hendrick Motorsports accomplished the feat in 1997 with Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven.
They got there after a frenzied finish that saw multiple wrecks, two red flags and Hamlin and Busch swapping the lead in between a pair of late-race restarts.
RELATED: Hamlin wins Daytona 500 | Hamlin’s rise in NASCAR
The two Joe Gibbs Racing veterans communicated through their own personal teams via scanner to orchestrate the final laps. The result of that left Hamlin exuberant in Victory Lane and Busch looking devastated on pit road.
“It’s first and foremost to try to make sure that we at least get a JGR car to Victory Lane,” Busch said of the final few laps. “(The 11 car) didn’t want to do it the previous restart, but then since he got the lead, he wanted to do it again (at the end).
“You know, it is what it is. At least we got a JGR car in Victory Lane. That’s the big picture. That’s what matters, and we move on.”
Hamlin explained that the No. 18 team asked his group to work together on the final restart, and the way the field was stacked, the Virginia native thought it made sense in that instance.
“Our original deal was inside 10 to go, after that you kind of race,” Hamlin said. “We kept going. I think we had a restart with seven or eight to go, we worked together, and … I think they asked and we said, ‘Let’s just race it out.’ So that put us in a good position.
“(For the last restart), I think they came to my spotter and said, ‘Hey, do you want to drop down in front of us, we’re open to do that,’ and when I saw him and the 22 (of Joey Logano) lined up, I was like, ‘Well, absolutely, sure. Definitely we’ll do that.’ I thought that was the best move for us, but it still gave him a great opportunity to win because he got a great run on us on the backstretch and we had to block it.”
For Hamlin, it was his second time winning the Daytona 500 — the first was in 2016 in a razor-close finish against Martin Truex Jr. — and it ended a winless drought that stretched back to the 2017 Southern 500. The Daytona 500 victory also came on the same day that Hamlin’s crew held up a sign in tribute to another No. 11, J.D. Gibbs, the beloved co-chairman of JGR who passed away a little more than a month ago.
RELATED: JGR pit crews, team honor J.D. Gibbs
Owner Joe Gibbs was overcome with emotion during his post-race interview with FOX as he tried to put in to words what the victory and 1-2-3 finish meant to him and the team.
“What happened right here, J.D.’s name is on that car,” Joe Gibbs said. “That’s his No. 11 with Denny, he found Denny. I’m just saying what happened here was emotional for all of us, the family. Denny racing like he did right there is unbelievable.”
Jones was almost the forgotten man of the podium sweep, having gotten swept up in an on-track incident previously. But Jones kept his car (mostly) clean when the “Big One” – and then others – erupted around him, then steered through the carnage late when Joey Logano and Michael McDowell didn’t quite get their Fords hooked up late.
“I couldn’t really tell how bad (the damage) was at the time, but it’s just such a ‑‑ it’s such a race here of just perseverance,” Jones said. “I mean, you get down to those last 20 laps, I knew there was probably going to be another wreck.
“But getting down to the end, at one point I was like, well, there’s only 14 cars left, I might as well just go race now. You’ve just got to stick with it. I mean, this is the one track where you can have quite a bit of damage and still get up there and contend, and that’s what kept me going, knowing we were still going to be in it and be able to finish.”