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article imageNASCAR: Hamlin wins closest ever Daytona 500

By John Duarte     Feb 22, 2016 in Sports
Daytona Beach - If you blinked, you missed it. NASCAR officials needed to review the video before declaring a winner in the 58th Daytona 500 on Sunday. Once they did, there was less than six inches and 10 one-hundredths of a second separating the noses of two cars.
“I heard on the radio. People were all crazy, excited. I assumed we won when that happened,” said Denny Hamlin in the post-race interview, after the first Daytona 500 win of his career.
If you didn't watch what turned out to be a fairly sedate race until the closing laps, you caught one of the more thrilling NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event in some time.
For 20 laps, Hamlin followed Matt Kenseth around Daytona International Speedway patiently — or as patiently as one could be lapping the 2.5-mile track at 200 miles per hour. Hamlin made his move with half a lap to go in the race, slipping under Kenseth and taking Martin Truex Jr. along with him. He admitted it was all reaction.
“This is the last lap of the Daytona 500,” Hamlin said. “When I saw a gap open like that, you've got to fill it for your race team. It would be an injustice for them if we didn't.”
As they came around the final corner, Hamlin wasn't sure how the final few feet were going to play out.
“Honestly, I thought off Turn 4 he was in the catbird seat,” Hamlin said. “I saw he was making his side draft move on me. (When Truex Jr. started to make his final charge) I just laid on his door and grinded the run off of him.
“I didn't know we had won,” said the 2016 Daytona 500 champion. “I knew it was close. I saw the pylon change and blink at the last second for the 11 (his car number).”
Truex Jr. said he was optimistic as he raced to the finish line.
“I felt like I had enough momentum to keep him behind me. I did all the way up until the last couple of feet,” he said of his battle with Hamlin. “He just shot out that last couple of inches on me on the right before the line.”
While finishing second in the Daytona 500 is nowhere near as good as winning the marquee race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Truex Jr. has no regrets how it all ended.
“Wish I would have crowded him up the track a little bit more late down the front stretch,” said the race runner up. “Those are split-second decisions. He came out on the right end of it today.”
Coming home in third place in the race was Kyle Busch. The reigning series champion said “this could have gone two spots better," but added it was a far better start to the season than a year ago when he missed the first 11 races with a broken foot suffered just before the Daytona 500.
“It's definitely a lot better being in the race, where I am supposed to be, rather than on the sidelines watching across the street,” Busch said. “It's my best finish in the Daytona 500 thus far. We'll take that.”
It was a disappointing start to his Sprint Cup career for rookie Chase Elliott, who took over the seat vacated by the retirement of Jeff Gordon and started his first Daytona 500 in the pole position. It took only 20 laps to bring his race to an end. He lost control of his car just as he exited Turn 4 and came to a stop on the infield grass after skidding past the entrance to pit lane. After an extended time in the garage, he re-entered the race 40 laps down. Elliott finish 37th.
“I hate it. It had been such a fun week and you hate to end the race before it even got started,” said Elliot. "Can't get caught in what happened today. It is irrelevant now.”
As is the case for Elliott, there's no time to lick the wounds as all drivers put the 2016 Daytona 500 behind them and move on to Round 2 of the season. Next on the NASCAR schedule is the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, on Feb. 28.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, denny hamlin, Daytona 500, kyle busch
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