Photo finish victory for Hamlin at Daytona

Photo by Jeremy Thompson/TheRacingExperts.com
Denny Hamlin edges Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds for victory in the Daytona 500.


By Justin Melillo Editor February 22, 2016 jmelillo@theracingexperts.net


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—It will easily go down as an instant Daytona 500 classic, filled with heartbreak, a last lap pass for the lead, and a photo finish to top it off.


Denny Hamlin dominated the 58th running of the Daytona 500, but it didn’t look like he had a shot coming to the final lap. It was his teammate, Matt Kenseth, who led taking the final lap.


In a turn of events, Hamlin, in fourth, moved up high ahead of Kevin Harvick. Kenseth went high to block, but Hamlin moved to the middle as Martin Truex, Jr. stayed low.


Through the tri-oval, Truex, Jr. led until the very last moment, as Hamlin had just enough momentum to hit the finish line first and take his first career victory in the Great American Race.


“It's the pinnacle of my career, for sure,” Hamlin said of the victory. “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.

“FedEx has been a huge supporter of me throughout my career. It's very unusual that the driver and the sponsor have such a great relationship like we have. They stuck by us. They're so heavily invested in myself and this sport and this race team.”


Truex Jr.’s second place finish was the closest in Daytona 500 history.



Photo by Jeremy Thompsoni/TheRacingExperts.com
Denny Hamlin lifts the Harley J. Earl trophy in victory lane proceeding his victory in the Daytona 500.

“It was really amazing what we were able to do all day and really just control the race the way we did. 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.”


Joe Gibbs Racing absolutely dominated the race, leading a combined 154 laps of the 200 ran. Kyle Busch finished 3rd, Carl Edwards, damaged in an earlier wreck, was 5th, and Kenseth fell back and ended up 14th.


“Well, I didn’t get a photo finish, so I was back in turn three somewhere,” Kenseth said. “No, if I can’t win, I want my teammate to win. That’s what being teammates is all about is to get everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing running good and we did that today. Those guys got the finish. I didn’t unfortunately.”


THROUGH THE FIELD


The early favorite to win the 2016 Daytona 500 was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and after his dominating victory in the first Can-Am duel Thursday night, it was hard not to agree. Earnhardt, Jr. fell back after leading early, and could never find his way back to the front.

The best the No. 88 ran after falling back outside the top 25 was as he got back to the top 5 only to spin off of turn 4, ending his chances at a third Daytona 500 victory. Earnhardt, Jr. finished 36th.


“I got loose and just busted my tail,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It was time to go. We were making some moves on the outside and moving forward and passing some guys. Just got loose trying to do too much at once.”




Photo by Jeremy Thompson/TheRacingExperts.com
Kyle Busch races during the Daytona 500.

Chase Elliott also found trouble off the same corner, much earlier in the race. Elliott led the first three laps of the race, but fell back after being passed by Earnhardt Jr. on lap four.

Elliott’s spin on lap 20 would have not ended his day had it not been for the splitter digging into the frontstretch grass. The No. 24 crew worked hard and put the NAPA chevy back on track 40 laps later, and he was able to finish 37th.

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