The 2016 Daytona 500 is one for the history books. The 58th running of Nascar's opening race recorded the closest margin of victory in the 500. The gap between race victor Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr was just 0.010 seconds after three hours of racing.
Hamlin, driving the number 11 Toyota Camry of Joe Gibbs Racing, now joins the elite group of drivers who have won the Daytona 500. His win also gives Joe Gibbs Racing their second win in Nascar's season premiere race and Toyota's first Daytona 500 win. Hamlin's win is also timely as Joe Gibbs Racing celebrates its 25th season in Nascar this year.
“This was a team victory. My teammates did an amazing job all day — working together. This is a proud moment for everyone at Toyota — in my 11th try in the Daytona. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know how that happened. I can’t even figure out what we did. It all just came together. I got the push I needed from (turn) 4. But this wouldn't be possible if the Toyotas hadn’t stuck together all race long. I’m so proud to get this win for Joe Gibbs Racing.” said Hamlin.
Martin Truex Jr., driving for Furniture Row Racing, made it a Toyota Camry 1-2-3 (with Kyle Busch finishing third) in this memorable finish. “That last couple feet before the line, Denny just creeped out in front of me. I should have probably tried to run him a little bit harder because I had probably a foot on him for a long, long ways from Turn 4” said Truex. Truex admitted that losing the race by a slim margin “hurts” but remains optimistic with the rest of the 36 race calendar.
The race was flagged off at 1:33 PM with Chase Elliot leading the pack. Superspeedway favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead after drafting Elliot for five laps. Kurt Busch soon took the lead after Earnhardt Jr. Elliot's first Daytona 500 wouldn't last very long as the rookie went sideways and narrowly avoided Carl Edwards in the process. The spin forced Elliot to retire from the race. After the caution period, Denny Hamlin began his charge for the lead, overtaking Busch.
Contrary to previous superspeedway races, the dreaded “Big One” did not happen in this year's Daytona 500. “The Big One” is a pile-up that is common occurrence on tracks such as Daytona and Talladega as all cars are tightly packed together at speeds over 320 km/h. However, the race was slowed down by six caution flags, mostly from single or two car incidents.
Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin ran side by side for a large portion of the race with Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr vying for the lead as well. Earnhardt Jr. briefly regained the lead but spun out and slammed into the inside wall. The final caution of the race was from Greg Biffle and Danica Patrick with less that 20 laps to go. The race restarted with Kenseth in front but lost draft. Hamlin and Truex Jr. would eventually race side by side with Hamlin taking the checkered flag.
Finishing third was Kyle Busch, followed by Kevin Harvick. Despite many close calls, Carl Edwards finished fifth and is sixth was Joey Logano. Kyle Larson, 2014's rookie of the year, finished seventh and rounding up the top ten are Regan Smith, Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch.