Denny Hamlin Wins the 58th Daytona 500

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The day many NASCAR fans have been waiting for finally arrived on Sunday. The 58th running of the Daytona 500 kicked off the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season, and it did it in a renovated Daytona racetrack where fans saw the closest finish in the race’s history.

Drivers, teams, and fans have been waiting for months for this day to come – the return to racing at the renovated Daytona International Speedway. In qualifying on Sunday, Chase Elliott (#24 NAPA Chevy) secured the pole position, alongside Matt Kenseth (#20 Dollar General Toyota). Meanwhile, Kyle Busch (#18 M&M’s Toyota) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 Nationwide Chevy) won the Can-Am Duels on Thursday, shaping up a Hendrick Motorsports vs. Joe Gibbs Racing battle.

Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing certainly did show up to compete on Sunday, while Hendrick Motorsports would struggle to survive. Chase Elliott would spin and crash early, taking himself out of contention. Then, pit road issues for Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevy) and a crash by Dale Earnhardt Jr. would spell the end of their chance to win.

As the race continued forward, the JGR-affiliated Toyotas would all be running in the Top 5 at one point. And while there were no big wrecks that took out large numbers of cars, it was shaping up to be a Toyota battle for the win. The outside line struggled all day to get formed up, and while the pack remained large, Kenseth and Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Toyota) remained unchallenged.

In the final laps, the front four cars began to separate themselves from the big pack. This would allow the cars behind them to use the draft to catch up with just two laps to go. On the final lap, Denny Hamlin would shift to the outside lane, and receive a huge push from Kevin Harvick (#4 Jimmy John’s Chevy). This would send him to second, and as Kenseth moved up to block, he slipped out of line. The battle would become between Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. (#78 Bass Pro Shops Chevy) for the win.

Out of Turn 4, the two would battle side by side, but Denny Hamlin would use side drafting to narrowly edge Truex, by just 0.01 seconds. Denny Hamlin, who got his first win at Daytona, would finally get the big win there, winning the Daytona 500.

While Hamlin experienced victory, Truex and others would experience the agony of defeat in NASCAR’s biggest race. Following Martin Truex Jr. in second would be 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch in third, with Harvick and Carl Edwards (#19 Arris Toyota) rounded out the Top 5.

Today would be the first win for Toyota in the Great American Race, and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing in 23 years. Meanwhile, one-car teams like Furniture Row Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing shined at the finish, coming home with Top 10 runs.

Next week, the Sprint Cup Series is off to the fast 1.5-mile oval in Atlanta. Coverage of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway can be seen next Sunday, live on your local FOX station.

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