Denny Hamlin led Sunday’s Daytona 500 most of the afternoon, then needed a late surge to win NASCAR’s season-opening race.
Hamlin paced the field for 95 of 200 laps, but he was running fourth on the final lap before making a strong move to the outside, nudging teammate Matt Kenseth and then powering by Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin beat Truex by one-hundredth of a second, the closest finish in the history of the race.
It was the first victory for Toyota in the annual race, and the first for team owner Joe Gibbs since 1993. It capped a near-perfect week for the three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, who made it clear last week he badly wanted to win NASCAR’s showcase event. Hamlin and Busch each won one of the exhibition races at Daytona leading up to the Daytona 500.
Hamlin, Truex, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards gave Toyota four of the top five finishes. Busch finished third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Edwards.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott was forced out of the race on the 19th lap before returning to complete 160 laps and finish 37th. The 20-year-old Sprint Cup rookie lost control of his No. 24 Chevrolet coming out of Turn 4 and slid into the grass infield.