Race Capsule: Hamlin dominates, barely wins first Daytona 500
Flag to Flag: This 58th Daytona 500 will go down as a perfect mix of wild and tame, heartbreak and triumph. No. 11 Denny Hamlin wins in a spectacular finish - the closest in 500 history - on his 11th try in the Great American Race. Hamlin led the most laps on the day (95), but the final green flag pit stops around lap 156 shuffled Hamlin's Toyota from 1st to 7th, when Hamlin slid his tires in his box and the crew decided to change four tires, instead of two.
That set up about a 42-lap run to the finish with Hamlin teammates Matt Kenseth (finished 14th) and Kyle Busch (3rd) running 1st and 3rd and new Joe Gibbs Racing satellite team/driver Martin Truex Jr. (2nd) in 2nd. JGR's Carl Edwards (5th) rose to 4th around that time in a damaged No. 19 Toyota.
As the laps clicked down, Kenseth and company stayed mostly single-file on the low line, even through two different restarts. That plan to stay together won the organization the race, but not two-time 500 winner Kenseth.
On the last lap, Hamlin had worked into the top 5 with his teammates and broke camp for the high line. With Kevin Harvick (4th) leading the outside lane, Hamlin shot up with a full head of steam to block his charge. Kenseth had led the previous 40 laps and had kept urging his spotter on the radio to tell his teammates behind him to stay in line until the close to the end of that lap.
Then as the field plowed through the tri-oval, Truex Jr. led the inside lane. But Hamlin side-drafted off of him enough to get a boost that put him across the finish line first by .01 seconds.
Earnhardt Jr., to a mighty roar from the crowd, led laps four thru
As mentioned, Earnhardt Jr. befell the same fate
Lap 93 saw a scary crash with two youngsters. No. 93 Matt DiBenedetto (40th) and rookie and 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion No. 34 Chris Buescher (39th) got into each other in Turn 2 and wrecked hard in the outside wall. Both were slow getting out of their cars - in fact, DiBenedetto needed assistance dismounting from his BK Racing Toyota and he limped away. But both ended up okay.
Another fan favorite fell by the wayside on the final caution of the day on lap 185. No. 10 Danica Patrick (35th) turned across the nose of No. 16 Greg Biffle (34th), sending her into the backstretch grass and into the garage for repairs.
Hamlin took the lead for the first time on lap 24 and pretty much stayed in control of the race until the aforementioned drop back after the final pit stops. His teammate Ky. Busch snagged the lead from Jimmie Johnson (16th) on lap 92 and stayed there for 15 circuits. Johnson led before that for 18 laps, but got shuffled to the middle lane and never did come forward again. Johnson later sped on pit road and lost a lap for a while.
There were six cautions for 31 laps, but no "Big One." The only race of the three this weekend that had the major multi-car wreck was Friday night's Truck race. There were 20 lead changes with 15 different
All that said, this Daytona 500 had plenty of ups and down and excitement and the finish will put it down as one of the most memorable in history.
The top 10 were: Hamlin; Truex Jr. (ran in top 5 most of
The points don't really matter right now, but Hamlin leads them and his win pretty much assures a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. Hamlin said as much in the post-race press conference - that he and new crew chief Mike Wheeler can now try some things in their car setups to be good for the Chase.
RaceTweet: Denny Hamlin has the race won, then taken from him, then he gets it back: his first Daytona 500/first for Toyota/first for JGR since '93.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Denny Hamlin - Easy. He led 55 more laps then Kenseth and his crew got him off pit road first on almost every stop. Hamlin himself slid the tires on the final stop, prompting Wheeler to call for four tires. But the driver found a way to win it back on the last lap and for the good of Joe Gibbs Racing. And he made one whale of a move to both keep the competition behind and take his first 500. Now he already looks ahead to try and capture his first championship.
North Korean Missile Dud: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He did lead twice for 15 laps and was projected as the race favorite. But after losing the lead early, he never could get with the JGR leaders and then when he tried, he wrecked. Overall, the No. 88 team had a great Speedweeks and Earnhardt Jr. personally had one - Elliott won Saturday's NXS race and other JR Motorsports cars ran well, then, too. But not closing the deal in the 500 certainly was a surprise and disappointment.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Regan Smith - Smith piloted the small-time Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevy to an impressive 8th-place finish. Smith started 27th and never showed much luster during any practice. But he worked into the top 10 in the last 40 or 50 laps and stayed there, despite his engine overheating. Smith lost his NXS ride to Justin Allgaier and did not have this ride until late January. So far, so good. But as they all say in this industry, the real test is Atlanta Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile
Ghost Driver: Jamie McMurray - There were a lot of candidates for this today, but we will go with the 2010 Daytona 500 winner. McMurray is always fast on plate tracks and he barely cracked the top 10 the entire day and really never was a factor in anything in Speedweeks. He led no laps and finished a pedestrian 17th. Truly, cutting through the pack is much harder these days at plate races than in the past. The No. 1 team got their biggest visibility Sunday when some of the over-the-wall crew delivered Egg McMuffins (courtesy of sponsor McDonald's, of course) to us lard-os in the Media Center.
You Can Comeback, but You Can't Stay Here: Carl Edwards - He was on the edge of being the unluckiest gunner in the race. Instead, he battled back from damage in both the Elliott wreck and the worse Vickers scrum to stay with the lead draft. Then the No. 19 got the free pass. And then he navigated to the front
Wheel of Misfortune: Greg Biffle - Biffle cut a tire on lap 120 and brought out a caution. He lost a lap, then got it back, but then got big damage when Patrick turned across his nose on lap 185. Biffle ran in the top 10 for a while and had an outside chance of making some noise Sunday. Instead, he finished 34th.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: The
This shouldn't be a strategy ploy on most tracks, but NASCAR should consider amending the caution clock or the pit rules when it winds down at tracks as big as Daytona.
NXS RaceTweet: Chase Elliott throws
NCWTS RaceTweet: Johnny Sauter wins Chevy's first-ever Daytona Truck race with his new No. 21 GMS team. Ryan Truex gets a full-time shot and places 2nd.
Georgia On My Mind: There was almost too much to talk about
First, Chase Elliott won the pole a week ago
David Ragan was never fast in Speedweeks with his new No. 23 BK Racing team. But he kept a clean nose and started and finished 29th in the 500. His Triad Racing engine has less horsepower than his Roush-Yates or TRD power plants in the past.
Six Georgia drivers attempted the NXS race. Mark Thompson failed to qualify. Brandon Jones started and finished 7th in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy. He got damage in an early
Townley was the only Georgia driver in the NCWTS race and he crashed and finished 26th. Reed Sorenson failed to qualify for both the NSCS and NCWTS races and failing to qualify for Friday's race with him were Korbin Forrister and Austin Hill. 11 Trucks went home Friday, as did eight NXS cars.
Next: All three series get back to reality on a track most drivers love - Atlanta Motor Speedway. Saturday's rare doubleheader sees the NXS Heads-Up 250 at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on FS1 and PRN and the NCWTS Great Clips 200 at 4:30 p.m. on the same networks. Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is Sunday at 1 p.m. on FOX and PRN. Check with News 95.5FM/AM750 WSB for live updates all weekend and listen live for my race day show Sunday with Eric Von Haessler on WSB from 10-1.