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
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
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
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.