This is the first installment in a series where NASCAR.com looks back at each race this season and gets you caught up for Sunday’s return at Darlington Raceway. We start with the Daytona 500, which took place Feb. 17, 2020 at Daytona International Speedway.
WINNER: Denny Hamlin won his third Daytona 500 and became the fourth driver to win “The Great American Race” in back-to-back years and the first since Sterling Marlin did so in 1994-95. Hamlin led a race-high 79 laps and was engaged in a back-and-forth battle with Ryan Blaney and Ryan Newman in a NASCAR Overtime finish.
KEY MOMENTS: The second closest finish in Daytona 500 history saw Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Ryan Newman trading the lead in the two-lap finish. Newman held the lead coming off of Turn 4 when contact from Blaney sent Newman up the track, into the wall and saw his car flip over with sparks flying. Blaney and Hamlin raced side-by-side to the line with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver edging out the Team Penske driver. Newman was taken to a local hospital after the last-lap wreck, and he would be released from Halifax Medical Center two days later.
A chain-reaction crash that started when Joey Logano bumped Aric Almirola into Brad Keselowski on Lap 184 involved 19 of the 37 cars still in the race and eliminated Keselowski and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson from contention. This was the first of four cautions in the final 25 laps.
RELATED: Full results from race
KEY DRIVERS: Ryan Blaney finished as the runner-up, and despite a strong show of speed from him to open 2020, this is his only top-five and top-10 finish so far in the season. In his first NASCAR Cup Series race back at Roush Fenway Racing, Chris Buescher finished third. Ryan Newman finished ninth even with his involvement in a last-lap wreck. Jimmie Johnson opened his final full-time season with a 35th-place finish after he was in a wreck on Lap 184.
1. Ryan Newman’s last-lap wreck sidelined him for the next three races. Ross Chastain filled in for Newman while during that time, but last month, the veteran driver was medically cleared to return when the season resumes.
2. Denny Hamlin strengthened his Hall of Fame case with a third Daytona 500 crown. The other drivers with at least three Daytona 500 wins – Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty – are all in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Unlike those five, Hamlin does not yet have a NASCAR Cup Series title. The victory looked to be a sign of Joe Gibbs Racing picking up where it left off from 2019, but to date, it’s the organization’s lone Cup Series win of the season.
3. Ryan Blaney’s crew-chief change pays early dividends. The speed shown at Daytona by Blaney was a trend NASCAR would see over the early weeks with new crew chief Todd Gordon. Blaney was strong at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway before late-race misfortunes impacted his finishing position in those races.
4. Chris Buescher scored his first NASCAR Cup Series top five since 2018 in his first start with Roush Fenway Racing. The 27-year-old made the move back to the Roush program after three seasons with JTG Daugherty Racing, and his season-opening top five served noticed that he would be a points factor in the playoff race.
5. David Ragan, Brendan Gaughan and Corey LaJoie nabbed top-10 finishes to open the season. LaJoie is the only one of the three who is running full time, while Gaughan has become strictly a superspeedway racer (and 2020 is his final year of that) and Ragan just retired from full-time racing after 2019. Ragan finished fourth, while Gaughan finished seventh and LaJoie finished eighth. John Hunter Nemechek was the highest finishing rookie – 11th – in a trend that would show the driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford routinely getting the most out of his ride.
6. William Byron was the trendy breakout pick for the 2020 season, but the 2020 Bluegreen Vacations Duel No. 2 winner finished last in the Daytona 500 in what amounted to a junior-year jinx. The 2020 season has started slow for Byron with his lone top 10 coming in the last of the four races so far (Phoenix Raceway) and his 19th-place position in the standings being the lowest of all four Hendrick Motorsports cars – the other three are all in the top five in points.
2020 SEASON REFRESHERS