Only four drivers have ever won back-to-back Daytona 500s and nobody has done it for 25 years, when Sterling Marlin claimed his second-successive victory.
Achieving back-to-back victories puts you in an exclusive club, but winning NASCAR’s crown jewel event more than twice, that’s an elite band reached by even fewer – just six in fact.
In winning the 2020 Daytona 500, Denny Hamlin didn’t just go back-to-back, he etched his name onto the Harley J. Earl Trophy for the third time in just five years.
Hamlin’s nail-biting win over Ryan Blaney was the second-closest Daytona 500 finish in history at just 0.014s, the closest being Hamlin’s first triumph in 2016 when he beat now-team-mate Martin Truex Jr. to the line.
After rain halted proceedings after just 20 laps out of the 200 on Sunday afternoon, the race resumed on Monday and immediately most of the field opted to pit. That led to polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. relinquishing the lead for the first time.
The first wave of pit stops proved to be crucial to the end result, as none of the Toyotas opted for service, instead staying out and hanging back as they saved fuel.
It looked to be a dangerous move, as a pack of Fords and Chevrolets took off out front. However, the leaders, while benefiting from track position, were struggling to make their fuel numbers.
On lap 59 the turning point for the five Toyota runners from Joe Gibbs Racing and Leavine Family Racing came, as contact between Stenhouse and William Byron sent the Hendrick driver careering into the inside wall on the backstretch. The incident and the resulting caution gave the Toyotas a free pit stop before the end of the stage.
After a two-lap shootout at the end of the stage, won by Chase Elliott, the leaders pitted and the Toyotas, which finished half a lap back, moved to the fore. From there Hamlin dominated, winning the second stage and racking up the most laps out in front of anyone.
Penske’s trio of Ford drivers held the advantage early in the final stage, until a 16-car crash, sparked by Joey Logano wiped out almost every contender. The 2018 series champion was pushing fellow Ford contender Aric Almirola towards the front of the lead pack when both moved into Brad Keselowski, the three collecting the field.
Among the others involved in ‘the big one’ were Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson, both of which spent time at the front of the field early on. Previous Daytona 500 winners Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon were also caught up.
After a short stoppage to clear up the debris, most remaining runners pitted, but Ryan Newman didn’t and led the field to the green.
Newman had help from both Logano – who continued, despite his involvement in the wreck – and Blaney out front, and after a second multi-car crash in the closing moments of the race, 2008 Daytona 500 winner Newman led into overtime.
A three-way battle on the final lap ensued, and despite a last lap crash for Elliott, the race was allowed to meet a natural end.
Hamlin began that final lap in the lead, but Blaney pushed Newman back to the front on the backstretch.
Blaney made a move for the lead as the field came to the chequered flag, but as Newman defended, the pair made contact with Newman spinning into a serious accident which left him hospitalised.
Hamlin passed both on the outside and despite his best efforts, Blaney couldn’t retake the lead.
Behind them, Chris Buescher took third, ahead of David Ragan and pre-race favourite Kevin Harvick. Clint Bowyer survived a late-race spin in an overtime restart to finish sixth, with Brendan Gaughan taking his best Daytona 500 result in seventh in his final start in the race.
LaJoie, whose car struck Newman’s was eighth, while Newman crossed the line upside down and classified ninth. Kyle Larson completed the top 10, ahead of John Hunter Nemecheck who was the highest-placed rookie.
Reigning series champion Kyle Busch, searching for a long-awaited maiden Daytona 500 crown, retired with engine failure just after lap 185.