Denny Hamlin wins closest-ever Daytona 500

Andrew Copley/Harold Hinson Photography.

By Jerry Jordan — DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It took 10 years for Toyota to get a car in Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 but with one lap to go in the 58th running of the Daytona 500, NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. to the line by one one-hundredth of a second – the closest margin of victory in the history of The Great American Race.

“It’s the pinnacle of my career, for sure,” Hamlin said. “I haven’t got a championship yet. This is obviously the biggest win for myself. It’s just the circumstances, J.D. Gibbs, who found me about 12, 13 years ago, it’s his birthday today, he’s been so pivotal to myself and my team and supporting me for the past 11 years.”

Hamlin wasn’t anywhere near the front of the field when he entered Turn 3 but Kevin Harvick kept bumping him from behind. Rather than knock Hamlin out of the way, it propelled him forward and gave him a huge run on his teammate, and the leader of the race, Matt Kenseth. For Harvick, he was coming hard and fast but Hamlin turned down to block and ended up side-by-side with Kenseth.

“I’m sitting there and I’m thinking at three to go, If it wasn’t my teammates, I’d be making a move right now. Two to go, if it wasn’t my teammates, I’d make a move right now. I can’t sit here and preach about teamwork through text messaging to all the crew chiefs and the drivers, Hey, guys, stick together, stick together. You can’t do that and then at the last minute screw it all up and somebody else win the race. I can assure you and promise to God to you that my plan was to block that 4 car from getting to the front three. He was coming with such a huge head of steam, he was going to get at least beside the 78. There was no question in my mind about that. After that, it was going to be a crapshoot.

“I figured, you know, one to go, we crossed the white flag, I move up into turn one in front of the 4. I’m thinking, okay, I’ve got the top lane covered, the bottom lane is filled with all my Toyota teammates, we’re sitting pretty good for either JGR or Toyota to get a victory here. He just kept pushing and hitting the back of my back bumper. Kept lunging more and more forward. Next thing you know, I’ve got a huge run. I’m thinking, what am I going to do with this?”

At that point, Kenseth got shuffled out of the draft and fell back. Enter Martin Truex Jr., who was running second and tried to cut under Hamlin to take the win. At one point it looked like Truex Jr. was out front but in a matter of inches – four to be exact – Hamlin pulled ahead for the win. It was the best-ever finish for Truex Jr. in the Daytona 500 and comes after his team switched over to the Toyota camp during the off-season.

“It was really amazing what we were able to do all day and really just control the race the way we did,” Truex Jr. said. “First off, I’ve got to thank all those guys for allowing us to be a part of their team, especially the drivers today for working so well together and letting me be part of that.

“The last lap, we were in great position behind Matt. Felt like if Matt would have stayed in front of us, maybe he would have probably held off Denny. He went up to try to block his run, Denny cut inside, made it three‑wide. Just side drafted me off of turn four all the way to the line. I felt like I had enough momentum to keep him behind me. I did all the way up until that last couple feet. He just shot out that last couple inches on me right before the line. Wish I would have crowded him up the track a little bit more down the frontstretch. Those are split‑second decisions. He came out on the right end of it today.”

Reigning Sprint Cup Series Champion, Kyle Busch, finished third to give Toyota a one-two-three finish in the biggest NASCAR race of the year. In fact, David Wilson, head of Toyota Racing Development, said this was the biggest race ever won in the history of the company.

“This is very difficult for me to put in words,” Wilson said. “I cannot articulate adequately what this means to Toyota. I’ll start by saying it’s our single biggest race in our company’s history. I’ll put it in front of the Indy 500, which was a pretty special one back in 2003.

“I’ve said this repeatedly lately. It’s not a single thing that’s clicked. This was our 10th try at the Daytona 500. When we came into the sport, we struggled. We were not ready. We didn’t know. So it’s taken time for us to collectively build an organization with our team partners that is capable of winning races and competing for championships. Today was the quintessential, perhaps, example of what that teamwork has paid off in. I am truly impressed, proud, moved by what our drivers did, our teams did together. We had a plan. When we went out in practice, I think it was Saturday afternoon, the five Toyota’s lined up, we were the top of the timing and scoring. We realized that our five cars working together could truly do something special on Sunday.”
Rounding out the Top five were Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, respectively.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *