Denny Hamlin's Daytona 500 win provides an emotional tribute to deceased J.D. Gibbs
The tribute to Joe Gibbs' boy was. Because he held off teammate Kyle Busch to secure his second Daytona 500 at a crash-filled race Sunday where less than half the field 30, denny Hamlin supplied another. J.D. Gibbs, Joe Gibbs' eldest son, died in January after a battling a rare degenerative neurological disease. He served as a team member of the first Daytona 500 victory of Joe Gibbs Racing, with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel in 1993 and had been a longtime team .
"It is the most emotional and biggest win I have had in my entire life -- in anything," said Gibbs, who led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl wins. "J.D. assembled our race team and was the man who conducted the daily operations for 27 years." J.D. Gibbs was responsible for discovering Hamlin, who he met at a late-model evaluation in North Carolina.
"He meant a great deal to me and it is difficult for me not getting choked up since I've been choked up about 100 times about it," Hamlin said. "Just to possess (J.D. Gibb's widow) Melissa and most of the children here, it is just mad. His family and joe and what they've done for my profession -- to bring them back to victory lane are just awesome.
"This one is for J.D.. We are desperately going to miss him the rest of our lies," Hamlin said. "His legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing and (I am ) proud to do so for them."
Erik Jones finished next. It is the first time in over two decades the same team completed 1-2-3. On Lap 11, crew members held up a banner to honor J.D. Gibbs, the same number he wore as a football player at William and Mary and on his own racecar in late models. It's also the exact same number of the Toyota of Hamlin.
Gibbs said Sunday's victory was in a class on its own, although joe Gibbs is no stranger to success, having won championships in both NASCAR and the NFL. "We've been to Daytona (500) 27 occasions. We won two before," Joe Gibbs said. "I guess everybody can say, 'That only occurred.' I don't feel that just happened. I feel we were looked down on by the Lord. It was an incredible crowd that is unbelievable. The entire thing was a memory for me and one that I will never forget. This was the most crucial night of my occupational life."
The race was scheduled for 200 laps around the famed 2.5-mile trioval before a series of wrecks and two red flags for cleanup pushed the race into overtime. A bulk of vehicles skidded down the backstretch, sparks flying Lap 190. 21 cars were collected as safety crews reacted. All drivers exited their cars under their own power as the rest of the field was parked for the flag.
Joe Gibbs reported the Daytona 500 celebration would be in its usual place. "Head to Steak'n Shake," Gibbs stated to close out the post-race news conference. "I am buying."
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