Joe Gibbs has been a three-time Super Bowl winning coach in the NFL, but said not even that was as satisfying as watching his driver Denny Hamlin win last Sunday’s Daytona 500. Hamlin, who was an 11/1 pick to win the race was part of 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kyle Busch finished second and Erik Jones was third for the 78-year-old owner. It was an emotional day for Gibbs, who lost his oldest son J.D. five weeks ago after losing his long battle with a degenerative neurological disease. Gibbs told NBC Sports that victory meant a lot to him.
“It was the most emotional and the biggest win I’ve ever had in my life in anything,” Gibbs said. “J.D. built our race team and was the guy that ran day-to-day operations for 27 years,”
Hamlin had been a fan of Gibbs well before he got into racing. When he was a youngster he was a huge Redskins fan, and managed to get an autograph from the iconic coach. A photo of that day hangs in Gibbs’ office.
It was J.D. that discovered Hamlin’s racing abilities and signed him to the team. Hamlin dedicated the victory to the man that signed him.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without a little help from new teammate Busch, who gave Hamlin his choice of position for the last nine laps, that allowed him to keep the lead and win the race.
“When he gave me the top, I literally was doing a little cheer in my mind,” Hamlin said. “My playbook said always choose the top, no matter what, no matter who’s behind you.”
Every Driver for Himself
Two drivers that apparently don’t subscribe to the concept of team player are Joey Logano and Michael McDowell. Logano thought he would be able to pair up with the fellow Ford driver and utilize some aerodynamics towards the end of the race. When that didn’t happen, Logano went over to McDowell on pit row and confronted him.
“I was surprised by the situation and what happened,” Logano said. “I thought that was going to be the plan, I would’ve thought. It’s part of it. He’s racing, too, I guess. We can’t win these things alone.”
McDowell brushed off Logano’s assumption.
“I just told him that my team doesn’t pay me to push Joey Logano to a win,” McDowell said. “That’s not what I get paid to do. At 200 miles an hour I made a split-second decision on what was the fastest car and who had the best shot of winning the race and that’s where I went.”
Season Debut Success
Many wondered how this NASCAR season would play out, and if the first race is any indication, it should be a successful year. The ratings for the season-opening race were up 8 percent from last year, and Daytona had its fourth consecutive sellout.
There were still some issues that hopefully will work themselves out, one of them being the length of the race. From start to finish it was well over four hours and NASCAR officials had said one of their goals this year was to make the races shorter.
This Week’s Race
Atlanta will host the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 this weekend. Oddsmakers are banking on two of last year’s Big Three to win. Kevin Harvick is the favorite at 4/1, while Kyle Busch is at 6/1.
Logano, who won the Cup Series last year, is also at 6/1.