DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- New year, another Denny Hamlin win in the Daytona 500, and Joe Gibbs still has the team to beat in NASCAR.
Hamlin won his third Daytona 500 on Monday, becoming the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win "The Great American Race'' in consecutive seasons. Hamlin's victory last year was part of a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing and kicked off a yearlong company celebration in which Gibbs drivers won a record 19 races and the Cup championship.
Monday's triumph is the third for Toyota, all by Hamlin. Gibbs has four Daytona 500 victories as an owner.
"I just feel like I'm a student to the game. I never stop learning and trying to figure out where I need to put myself at the right time,'' Hamlin said. "It doesn't always work. We've defied odds here in the last eight years or so in the Daytona 500, but just trust my instincts, and so far, they've been good for me.''
Hamlin joined six Hall of Fame drivers as winners of three or more Daytona 500s. He tied Dale Jarrett -- who gave JGR its first Daytona 500 win in 1993 -- Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trails Cale Yarborough's four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.
Hamlin's celebration in victory lane was subdued in light of the terrifying crash late in the final lap that sent Ryan Newman to the hospital.
"I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are, and No. 1, we are praying for Ryan,'' Hamlin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.