1st Daytona 500 Win for Toyota

Denny Hamlin won the closest Daytona 500 in history with a 0.10 second win over 2nd-place Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin later attributed the victory to the teamwork of the Toyota drivers, who finished 1st-2nd-3rd in the race.

Hamlin decided with two laps remaining to make a run at leader, Matt Kenseth, with a push from Kevin Harvick. The Daytona 500 winner said he was trying to block Harvick from surging to the lead, but Harvick’s push was so strong that it move him past Kenseth and Truex.

Toyota Finishes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th

Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards drove in a pack through much of the race, giving each other a much-needed push at key points. Hamlin later said it was the plan teammates had after a Saturday discussion.

After the race, Hamlin said, “The last thing I wanted to do was wreck off Turn 4 with my Toyota teammates and none of us win. We had talked about a plan overnight to just work together, work together and I’ve never seen it executed so flawlessly.”

Joe Gibbs Racing Victory

Daytona 500 Photo Finish - Denny Hamlin Martin Truex

A snapshot of the 2016 Daytona 500 photo finish.

It’s been a good few months for Joe Gibbs Racing. In November, JGR celebrated its first Sprint Cup championship in a decade, when Kyle Busch won the Chase. Today, Joe Gibbs Racing celebrates its first Daytona 500 victory since Dale Jarrett’s win in 1993.

The team has been on a tear of late, including wins this week by Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Joe Gibbs had told his drivers to tamp down on the enthusiasm after those wins, hoping to focus on today’s race.

Martin Truex: The Closest 2nd Place Ever

Martin Truex was a little disappointed after the race, but he spun his 2nd-place finish as a positive. Truex is driving a Toyota in 2016, so he was an unofficial member of the pack which dominated the action on Sunday.

He said of coming so close to winning, “It hurts a little bit. I think the only thing I should have done different was been a little more aggressive coming to the line, holding Denny up the racetrack. That last split second when he pulled off my door, that was it. It gave him that couple inches to beat me to the line.”

Truex said decisions in the waning moments of a race are difficult, because you don’t want to wreck your car. He said, “It’s hard to make those decisions. Live and learn. I think if I get in that position again, I’ll do it a little bit differently.”

Toyota Finally Comes of Age in NASCAR

With Carl Edwards finishing in fifth place, Toyotas finished in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place. David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the biggest race in Toyota’s NASCAR history.

Wilson said, “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. And so it’s taken time for us to collectively build an organization of winning races and competing for championships.”

Disappointment for Matt Kenseth

After leading with 2 laps to go, Matt Kenseth faded on the final lap and finished in 14th place. It was a disappointing turn of events for the 2003 Winston Cup champion, but he expressed well wishes for his teammate.

Kenseth said, “They don’t get much more crushing than that. If I can’t win, I want my teammate to win. There’s a million things you could do differently, but I did what I thought I should do at the time to try to win. We finished terrible, but that was the move I thought I had to make to try to preserve the win.”

Daytona 500 2016 Results

Position           Driver                          Laps    Led

1                                                        Denny Hamlin                                                 200                     95

2                                                       Martin Truex Jr.                                              200                     2

3                                                       Kyle Busch                                                         200                    19

4                                                      Kevin Harvick                                                   200

5                                                      Carl Edwards                                                    200

6                                                      Joey Logano                                                      200

7                                                      Kyle Larson                                                        200

8                                                      Regan Smith                                                      200

9                                                      Austin Dillon                                                     200                  1

10                                                   Kurt Busch                                                         200

11                                                  Ryan Newman                                                  200                   1

12                                                  Aric Almirola                                                     200

13                                                 Kasey Kahne                                                       200

14                                                  Matt Kenseth                                                    200                  40

15                                                 Michael McDowell                                         200

16                                                 Jimmie Johnson                                               200                   18

17                                                Jamie McMurray                                             200

18                                                Paul Menard                                                       200

19                                                Ryan Blaney                                                        200

20                                                Brad Keselowski                                              200                      1

21                                                AJ Allmendinger                                              200

22                                               Ricky Stenhouse Jr.                                         200

23                                               Landon Cassill                                                    200

24                                               Brian Scott                                                           200                      1

25                                              Ty Dillon                                                                 200

26                                              Brian Vickers                                                       200

27                                              Michael Annett                                                  200                       1

28                                              Trevor Bayne                                                      200

29                                             David Ragan                                                         200                       1

30                                             Michael Waltrip                                                 200                       1

31                                             Bobby Labonte                                                    200                      1

32                                             Casey Mears                                                        199

33                                            Clint Bowyer                                                         199

34                                            Greg Biffle                                                              198

35                                            Danica Patrick                                                     184

36                                           Dale Earnhardt Jr.                                             169                          15

37                                           Chase Elliott                                                          160                           3

38                                           Robert Richardson Jr.                                      135

39                                          Chris Buescher                                                      91

40                                          Matt DiBenedetto                                               91

2016 Daytona 500 News and Notes

Chase Elliott learns a hard lesson about Sprint Cup racing.

Chase Elliott had a rough start to his full-time NASCAR career.

After grabbing the pole position coming into the race, Chase Elliott faded quickly once the green flag was waived. He led the first 3 laps, but was passed early on and crashed only 19 laps into the event.

Chase Elliott was taken for medical evaluation after his early crash, which allowed other drivers to take pit stops and make early-race adjustments. Elliott returned in Lap 59 a full 40 laps down. He finished 37th of 40 cars.

Speaking to a TV reporter after the race, the 20-year old replacement for Jeff Gordon said, “I just got in the middle and just lost it. I hate it, it was such a fun week. Just disappointing to end race before we even got started.”

Such is the learning curve for young NASCAR drivers. The first part of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series should teach Chase Elliott some valuable lessons about stepping up to the big leagues.

Dale Earnhardt Spins into 4th Wall

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a big favorite to win, driving a car (“Amelia Earnhardt”) which seemed unbeatable. Amelia had won 4 races recently and never finished lower than 3rd in 7 races over the past year.

Earnhardt was inching closer using the high line, but he spun into the fourth wall after catching a side draft from another car on the 170th lap. He crashed into an interior wall and ended up on the grass.

Junior told reporters afterward, “Caught me by surprise there. We were making some ground on the leaders a little bit so that was looking pretty good because the outside line really hadn’t been doing anything all day. Just busted my butt there. Driver mistake.”

Looking Ahead: Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500

Feb 21, 2016; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates winning the the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 21, 2016; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates winning the the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The next Sprint Cup Series race is the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It airs on Fox at 1 pm Eastern next on Sunday, February 28th.

Denny Hamlin gets the biggest win of his career. So does Toyota Racing Development. Joe Gibbs Racing continues its latest surge, after locking down the Chase for the Sprint Cup in November 2015. Time to see if Toyota and JGR winning becomes a trend in the 2016 NASCAR season.