NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Survives Crashes to Win Second Daytona 500

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Survives Crashes to Win Second Daytona 500

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin won his second Daytona 500 in a chaotic day that saw the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas sweep the top three finishing positions ahead of the heavily favored Ford-powered machines. Single-file racing throughout the week building up to Sunday's Daytona 500 was thrown to the wayside immediately when the green flag waved on Sunday's race. Not only did the track support multiple grooves, but the inside line seemed to be the preference early despite the high line being the favorite all week prior.

The first two stages of Sunday's race proved to be relatively quiet, but the carnage came in the final miles. Multiple large-scale crashes in the final laps turned the race into a battle for survival that teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch seemed to navigate with ease. Nearly every other contender fell into trouble, and that left Hamlin and Busch to challenge for the win among themselves. Joey Logano was the closest Ford but didn't have the partnership he needed to mount a serious charge. Instead, Joe Gibbs Racing put three of its cars into the top finishing positions to start their season off on the best possible foot.

This week in Atlanta the series introduces its new rule package. The cars will run tapered spacers that are intended to reduce horsepower. Additional aerodynamic changes will allow cars to draft much closer as if they were at Daytona or Talladega. The rules are set to make the racing more pack-like and could produce unexpected outcomes. Fantasy players

Denny Hamlin won his second Daytona 500 in a chaotic day that saw the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas sweep the top three finishing positions ahead of the heavily favored Ford-powered machines. Single-file racing throughout the week building up to Sunday's Daytona 500 was thrown to the wayside immediately when the green flag waved on Sunday's race. Not only did the track support multiple grooves, but the inside line seemed to be the preference early despite the high line being the favorite all week prior.

The first two stages of Sunday's race proved to be relatively quiet, but the carnage came in the final miles. Multiple large-scale crashes in the final laps turned the race into a battle for survival that teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch seemed to navigate with ease. Nearly every other contender fell into trouble, and that left Hamlin and Busch to challenge for the win among themselves. Joey Logano was the closest Ford but didn't have the partnership he needed to mount a serious charge. Instead, Joe Gibbs Racing put three of its cars into the top finishing positions to start their season off on the best possible foot.

This week in Atlanta the series introduces its new rule package. The cars will run tapered spacers that are intended to reduce horsepower. Additional aerodynamic changes will allow cars to draft much closer as if they were at Daytona or Talladega. The rules are set to make the racing more pack-like and could produce unexpected outcomes. Fantasy players will need to forget what they've come to learn from the past and pay close attention to how the new rules package impacts the on-track performance.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – After failing to win a race in 2018, Hamlin came out swinging in Sunday's Daytona 500 and walked away with his second 500 victory. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had plenty of pent up frustration from not finding the success he craved last season, which he put to good use navigating the draft and finding his way into contention in the final laps on Sunday. Hamlin won in Atlanta in 2012 and finished fourth there last season. He was a contender all afternoon in Daytona and should be considered a real threat to win multiple races in 2019. Fantasy players should not expect No. 11 to go winless for the rest of 2019.

Kyle Busch – Busch worked his way from deep in the field to the front in the first stage. He captured the valuable stage win points with an impressive drive, working with the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet machines to hold the charging Fords at bay. By the end, he was still in contention and finished second in a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3 finish among teammates on a day Ford was widely expected to dominate. Busch has two prior Atlanta wins, and started from pole at the track in last year's visit. While he walks away from another Daytona 500 without the one trophy he's still missing, he should have plenty of confidence in his ability to win another championship.

Joey Logano – Logano had a stunning week at Daytona but was unable to walk away with the biggest prize. He won his qualifying race and was in contention to challenge for the win in the 500 but didn't have the help he needed to get back ahead of the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. The defending champion will be encouraged by his start to the season, but everything begins anew this week in Atlanta with a new era of competition rules. Logano has never won at Atlanta but does have three finishes of sixth or better in his last four visits to the circuit. He is the defending champion and does not appear likely to let it go easily.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney led the most laps in last year's Daytona 500, and he won the second stage of the race this year to take that segment two consecutive times. In the closing laps, he fell into the jaws of the biggest crash of the afternoon, ruining his chances to finish at the front of the pack. Atlanta hasn't been the best track for him either. In three starts his best finish is 12th, which he scored last season. With an average start of 21st, he could be a driver fantasy players want to take a look at for finish differential points. He has proven his worth in the draft, and more drafting is what fans should expect in the weeks to come.

Erik Jones – Jones survived early misfortune to battle back and finish third in the Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top spots in Sunday's Daytona 500. Jones had one prior Daytona win from last season, so fantasy owners were well aware of what his abilities are at the track. He survived an eventful afternoon and should be happy with a strong start to the season with a top-five finish. Everything changes this week, though. His best finish at that track in two career starts is 11th last year. He will be hoping to do better this season, and the new rules package could play to his favor considering how well he races in the draft. Jones was a true contender in 2018's title fight and could become a favorite this season.

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch – Slight contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent Busch spinning in the first stage of Sunday's Daytona 500. Contact with Bubba Wallace due to the spin left the No. 1 machine with damage that would make the rest of the afternoon a futile exercise for the former series champion. There was nothing much Busch and the team could do after that, and turning laps alone was about all they could manage. Busch has three past victories in Atlanta, but this year the playbook will be very different due to the new rules package. He will hope the new configuration plays to his favor and that he can add to his four top-10s in his last five appearances at the circuit.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson was an innocent bystander in an accident that ruined the good afternoon he had going in Sunday's Daytona 500. While Johnson was slowing down to get on pit road in the final stage he was clouted from behind by drivers behind him who couldn't maintain control. The contact ripped off the left rear of Johnson's car, making it difficult to refuel and maintain any kind of acceptable aerodynamics in the draft. The former champion had been in a strong position and was racing to be in contention to fight for the win in the final laps. Johnson has five prior Atlanta victories but hasn't finished inside the top 15 at the track since 2016. Fantasy players will be left wondering what he could have done without that contact.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was unable to survive the carnage that unfolded late in Sunday's Daytona 500. His Stewart-Haas Racing Ford had been one of the strongest throughout speedweeks, but he was unable to convert that strength into a top finish when it mattered the most. Despite winning his qualifying race, he was unable to capture a stage win or score a top finish in the opening round of the 2019 season. With two career wins in Atlanta, he should be feeling confident about things to come, but the new rules package likely will make this week's race different than all of those before. Still, Harvick has a way of getting the job done, and fantasy players should expect him to resurrect his fortunes sooner rather than later.

Paul Menard – Menard ended up on the wrong end of contact twice in as many weekends after Sunday's Daytona 500 and the prior week's Clash. The first incident came as Menard was racing Jimmie Johnson for the lead in the Clash, while the second came Sunday as he was trying to push Matt DiBenedetto toward the front late in the 500. The outcomes of those races were not representative of what Menard should have been expecting given his car's speed and his abilities in the draft. He will walk away from Daytona thinking he should have deserved more, but he must now focus on the weeks to come. He has just one top-five finish from 17 Atlanta starts and no top-10 finishes since 2012.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt DiBenedetto – DiBenedetto came into 2019 with a new team and new outlook. That seemed to pay off early as he was one of the top cars throughout the middle section of Sunday's Daytona 500. Unfortunately, he was the victim of aggressive driving late in the race and lost control in front of the pack. Still, it was an impressive outing for the driver typically seen near the back of the pack. He has three Atlanta starts in his career with a best finish of 28th, but Levine Family Racing's new partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing could prove to boost this team closer to the sharp end of the grid. It didn't pay off in a top finish Sunday but there's plenty of promise for the season to come.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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