2016 Daytona 500: Denny Hamlin wins in photo finish

February 21st, 2016 by Staff

(www.usatoday.com)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In one of the greatest Daytona 500 finishes of all time, Denny Hamlin held off Martin Truex Jr. by less than a nose to win his first 500 – and the first for team owner Joe Gibbs in 23 years.

Hamlin teammate Matt Kenseth was leading on the last lap, but Hamlin got a run on the outside lane and then squeezed by, setting up a photo finish with Truex. Then Hamlin won by about four feet – .011 seconds, the closest finish in the race’s history.

The 35-year-old now is in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in his first race with new crew chief Mike Wheeler and finally has a 500. He finished in the top 5 here three of the past four years.

“This was a team victory. My teammates did an amazing job all day working together, all the Toyotas,” said Hamlin, who won the exhibition race last Saturday. “I don’t know where that came from. I can’t even figure out what I did. It just all came together, and I got a great push from Kevin Harvick. This wouldn’t have happened without all the Toyotas sticking together. I’m so happy to get this victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.”

Dale Jarrett was the last driver to win for JGR, in 1993.

Said Truex Jr., who drives for Furniture Row Racing and Toyota: “I did all I thought I could do. I had the lead. I probably should have run him up a little more, just lost in the last second. … Really proud of everybody. Really proud of the teamwork with the JGR guys. We’re team players, and we’re in it for the long haul with them. Congrats to Denny. He beat me by a couple of feet.”

Joey Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 winner, finished sixth but was running in or near th

“They (the JGR drivers) were just really good today,” he said. “They were working together better than anybody. We were in the hunt and got close and made good adjustments on our cars, but we were never quite fast enough to win it.

“It’s all about the lines and the run. It’s hard enough to get two cars to go together, and you need five or six of them to go.”

DANICA DAMAGED: With 17 laps to go, an already frustrated Danica Patrick went through a spin through the grass on the backstretch after contact with Greg Biffle. Patrick was already having a bad race; she went a lap down during green flag pit stops after her crew went over the wall too soon and caused a penalty.

BAD DAY FOR THE FAVORITE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his famed car “Amelia” went for a spin off Turn 4 with 31 laps to go and went nose-first into the inside wall, ruining his day. Earnhardt had led early but lost his track position during pit stops and had to fight all race to regain it. Just when Earnhardt was making moves – he had just sailed past Hamlin and Joey Logano – Earnhardt got loose and lost control of his car.

HARD CRASH: Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher had a violent accident on lap 92 when DiBenedetto got out of shape and snapped toward the Turn 1 wall. Buescher got a piece of it and both cars ended up making tremendous contact, impacting the SAFER barrier. Buescher’s No. 34 car hit so hard, its rear tires were lifted off the ground. The drivers took their time getting out of the cars and seemed shaken, but both were evaluated in the infield care center and released.

THAT’S THE BRAKES: Several drivers seemed to have problems getting loose out of Turn 4, and Brian Vickers fell victim to Joey Logano’s slip-up just past the one-quarter mark of the race. Logano seemed to hit the brakes coming out of the turn, and Vickers came up on the No. 22 car with too much speed. Vickers spun out, and Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne also sustained some damage in the incident.

POLE-SITTER: Rookie Chase Elliott, taking over for Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car, started from the pole and led the first three laps before he was passed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Unfortunately, Elliott caused the first caution on lap 19 when he spun out of the pack from about 10th place and slid through the grass, causing major damage.

PICTURE PERFECT: For a race that has occasionally been plagued by rain, Sunday’s 58th running of the Daytona 500 took place under ideal conditions. There was a vibrant atmosphere with Daytona’s renovated grandstands (including a sold-out crowd of more than 101,000) and grand marshal Gerard Butler even gave a “THIS. IS. DAYTONA!” before telling drivers to start their engines.

Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck

PHOTOS: 2016 Daytona 500

Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning his first career
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