Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin took his first-ever Daytona 500 victory Sunday following a daring last-lap pass lead that ended in a close photo finish with fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. The nose of Hamlin’s Toyota crossed the finish line a half-foot ahead of Truex Jr.’s, making for the closest-ever finish in Daytona 500 history.
The highest-finishing Chevrolet Sunday was Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who finished fourth after helping to push Hamlin to the front of the pack on the final lap. Harvick nearly wrecked earlier in the day after he got loose in turn four and began sliding sideways, however he was able to regain control the No. 4 Chevrolet SS before any major damage occurred.
Hamlin’s win was Toyota’s first-ever Daytona 500 victory and was also the first Daytona 500 win for Joe Gibbs Racing in 23 years. The Tampa, Florida native said he didn’t plan on trying for the lead on the last lap of the race and that he didn’t have a strategy in place before executing the daring last-minute overtake.
“I had no anticipations of winning this race on the white flag lap,” Hamlin told NASCAR.com. “I didn’t know we had won. I knew it was close. I saw the pylon change and blink at the last second with the 11. I heard people on the radio crazy and excited and assumed we won at that point.”
“This was a team victory,” he added. “My teammates did an amazing job all day; this is a proud moment for everyone at Toyota. I don’t know what happened, I can’t even figure out what I did.”
A good day for Toyota ended up sour for Chevy. Pole-sitter Chase Elliott’s chances at winning were thwarted early after the rookie got loose off turn 4 and went sliding into the infield grass, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrecked running mid-pack on Lap 170. Jimmie Johnson also had trouble keeping pace late in the day and wound up 16th.
Brian Vickers, filling in for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet SS, put in a strong performance Sunday after running in the top 10 briefly and holding second place for a period in the final 40 laps. The 32-year old is driving the No. 14 Chevy for Stewart while the three-time Sprint Cup champ is recovering from a back injury suffered during an ATV accident earlier this year.