Denny Hamlin’s fourth-place finish in the Daytona 500 was Joe Gibbs Racing’s best result of the weekend, as the team lost a few race cars and a driver during the weekend’s Alert Today Florida 300 Xfinity Series race on Saturday and Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Kyle Busch, driving of the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry in the Xfinity Series race, sustained a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot in an accident near the end of Saturday’s race at Daytona International Speedway. Busch was taken to a local hospital for treatment immediately after the accident and underwent successful surgery on his right leg.
Team owner Joe Gibbs stated he has no timetable for Busch’s return from his injuries.
With Busch sidelined for the 500, Camping World Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton got the call as replacement driver for Sunday’s race. Crafton drove the No. 18 Crispy M&Ms Toyota Camry to a 19th-place finish in his first-ever Cup Series start.
“It was a learning curve,” said Crafton, the two-time defending Truck Series champ. “The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn. I made a mistake – I had a pretty good surge up top and I tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back. I should have had a little better finish there at the end, but it is what it is.”
“Matt did a good job,” said crew chief Adam Stevens. “It’s a lot to ask of a guy to not practice a car and come and race it. We kind of took the strategy of just letting him ride around the first part of the race and letting him work up to it. Everything was going fine, but you know how these speedway races end and sure enough it ended like we thought it would. We ran all the laps and it was a good effort – proud of his effort and proud of the team — something to build on going forward.”
Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota from the rear of the field but moved up quickly to the top five, where he spent much of the race. Hamlin was in the runner-up position for the green-white-checkered finish, but was shuffled back to fourth at the checkered flag.
JGR newcomer Carl Edwards started from the fourth position but was only able to secure a 23rd-place finish in the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota. Matt Kenseth started 35th in the race and got caught up in a Lap 42 wreck; multiple trips to pit road for repairs kept Kenseth in the race but not in the hunt, falling back two laps from the leaders. Kenseth finished where he started – 35th.
Former JGR driver Joey Logano won the Daytona 500, followed by Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Jimmie Johnson finished fifth.
Busch and his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota are credited with a 26th-place finish at Daytona on Saturday, but JGR teammate Erik Jones picked up a runner-up finish in his first Xfinity Series start at the track. Daniel Suarez, who finished second in the season-opener for the ARCA Racing Series at Dayton, finished a disappointing 39th. Suarez not only wrecked during the race, but also during group qualifying for the Alert Today Florida 300.
The Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series both race next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Friday through Sunday, February 27th through March 1st. Keep up with the action at joegibbsracing.com.
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