Daytona Update: Denny Hamlin leads at halfway

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Thanks to pitting before a caution came out on Lap 70, Denny Hamlin finds himself leading at the halfway mark in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Green flag stops had begun at Lap 68, but two laps later, Joey Logano shot up into the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the second yellow of the evening. Race leader Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the front-runners had not yet pitted, causing a shakeup on the scoring pylon when they made their way down at Lap 71.

When the green returned at Lap 75, the Top 14 drivers – with Hamlin at the front – were those that had pitted before Logano’s incident.

Pole sitter Kyle Busch led the field through Lap 26 pit stops under a caution period (caused by Paul Menard’s engine letting go) and maintained his edge off pit road, but on Lap 33, Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne charged to the front.

That eventually led into the Hendrick duo pulling along a seven-car breakaway line on the low groove that included Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rookie pilot Ricky Stenhouse Jr. So far, the low line has appeared to be the stronger one tonight in contrast to this past February’s Daytona 500, which saw the high line emerge as the lane of choice.

With 80 of 160 laps complete, Hamlin is ahead of Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Earnhardt-Ganassi combo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).