Denny Hamlin snapped a 23 year Daytona 500 drought for Joe Gibbs Racing Sunday winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 in a thrilling finish over Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin, who won last week’s Sprint Unlimited led the most laps but lost ground in the closing laps and was forced to make a furious charge to the front and win by the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.It was Hamlin’s 27th career victory. Here’s how it went down Sunday in the Daytona 500.
Pole sitter Chase Elliott led the field to the green and held it for the first lap despite pressure from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who started second after Matt Kenseth was forced to the rear of the field. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch were two by two behind.
Earnhardt who was one of the favorites all week, took the lead on lap 3 on the backstretch. The inside lane led by Logano moved up and he took second. Ryan Blaney and Elliott were side by side just behind them.
On lap 5 Hamlin began creeping up on the inside and was soon side by side for second with Logano. Logano was second, Elliott was third by lap 9. By lap 12 Earnhardt was the sole leader, and the field was two by two behind him. Hamlin was second, Logano third, Kyle Busch fourth with Kevin Harvick fifth.
Kyle Busch had moved to second by lap 16; Harvick was third, Kurt Busch was fourth, Hamlin fifth. Kyle Busch went to the lead exiting turn 4 on lap 17. As he got the point, Harvick nearly spun out but was able to save it. On lap 19 Elliott in a three wide battle inside the top 10, spun; he clipped the nose of the No. 19 driven by Carl Edwards. Edwards was able to continue while Elliott slid to a stop in the infield grass. Regan Smith who had been on the high side of the three also spun trying to avoid Elliott. Smith sustained no damage and continued. The first caution of the day came out.
The majority of the leaders pitted. Hamlin won the race off pit road, Kurt Busch was second, and Kyle Busch was third followed by Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.
The green came back out on lap 25; Hamlin led from the inside, Kurt Busch on the outside. Earnhardt and Kyle Busch were directly behind. Hamlin was able to get a clear lead by lap 27; Kyle Busch slipped into second, Johnson was third, Martin Truex Jr. was fourth as the top four had formed a single line. Johnson tried to make a run on the outside but fell back on lap 30, Matt Kenseth soon had the preferred inside spot and to swapped fourth and fifth. Earnhardt had slipped to 9th by lap 34; up front Hamlin led, Kyle Busch was second, Truex third and Kenseth and Johnson still side by side behind.
The top five were single file by lap 39 as Kenseth took sole possession of fourth with Johnson sliding into fifth. The top 20 were single file by lap 42. It was a ten car breakaway by lap 44.
On lap 56 caution two came out when Brian Vickers spun exiting turn 4 after Logano checked up in front of him. Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all suffered damage. All were able to continue but Edwards seemed to have the most damage and spent a great deal of time in his pit stall and lost a lap. The leaders all pitted; Johnson was out first, Hamlin was second followed by Kyle Busch, Truex Jr. and Kenseth. During the caution, Elliott returned to the race.
Green came back out on lap 61. Johnson and Hamlin were side by side for the lead, Truex and Kyle Busch were just behind. The front two were still side by side on lap 65. The field was stacked up in two rows behind.
Johnson was finally able to gain the advantage by lap 69; Kyle Busch fell in behind. Johnson held station until lap 78 when he suddenly dropped back and a line of cars that had formed behind him rocketed by. Kyle Busch was in the lead, Kenseth was second, Hamlin third, Truex fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth; Johnson was 14th.
On lap 92 Chris Buescher and Matt Dibenedetto got together entering turn 1 after Dibenedetto turned hard into the wall and careened down the track. Caution three was displayed. Pit stops took place with Hamlin was out first followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
The green came out just prior to halfway, lap 99. Hamlin jumped out to the lead followed by Kenseth and Truex. Kasey Kahne and Logano were two by two behind. By lap 101, Kenseth has taken over second, and the battle for third was between Kahne and Truex.
By lap 117 the field had settled into a single line back to about 11th place. On lap 118 Greg Biffle lost a right rear tire. His Ford suffered major damage but was able to make it to the pits. NASCAR was forced to call a caution, number four, for debris.
The leaders all came in for stops. The top 10 took only two tires; Hamlin was out first, Truex was second followed by Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Logano. Green came out on lap 123. Hamlin was able to stretch out his lead over Truex on the restart as the rest of the field formed up two-by-two behind. By lap 125 the top four included Kyle Larson in the top five for the first time of the race. The top eight were single file by lap 129.
Logano had formed an outside line and was slowly leading it to the front by lap 137. By lap 138, Logano was up to fourth on the outside but couldn’t move up closer to the front. Logano gave up and dropped down to the bottom line on lap 141. The top five were single file; it was Hamlin, Truex, Kyle Busch, Larson and Logano.
The leaders took the first green flag stops of the day on 156. Johnson was penalized for his crew going over the wall too soon and had to serve a pass through. When the stops cycled through by lap 161 Kenseth led, Truex was second, Kyle Busch was third, with Brian Vickers fourth and Austin Dillon fifth. Hamlin in 7th was trying to mount a charge back to the front on the outside with a second line after issues in the pits. He soon gave up and fell into the single line.
Dale Earnhardt’s day end on lap 170 when he went for a solo spin exiting turn four. The Daytona 500 favorite was charging towards the top five and moving up when he spun out off turn four, slid down into the wall and ended in the infield at the entrance to pit road; caution five came out.
Green came out on lap 174; Kenseth led, Truex was second, Vickers was third, followed by Kyle Busch and Logano. Kenseth had a clear lead over Truex by lap 176.
The top four had lined up by lap 179, as the rest of the field was two and three wide behind them. Hamlin had moved to fifth with Austin Dillon sixth; Vickers had fallen to 7th.
Caution six came out on lap 183 when Biffle and Danica Patrick made contact entering turn 3. Both spun, Biffle to the outside, Patrick to the inside. Both cars had heavy damage but were able to make it to the pits. The leaders all stayed out and the green returned on lap 188.
Kenseth was able to jump to the lead, Truex was second, Kyle Busch third. Logano was fourth on the top; Hamlin, Edwards and Vickers followed on the low line. The field continued to hold station until the final laps.
With five to go, the top five held station on the bottom, as the outside line could not move up. However with two laps to go, Hamlin began to charge up the outside and for the first time all race long was actually able to make up ground thanks to a push from Harvick. On the final lap Hamlin again went high and was moving forward; Kenseth fell out of the draft as he went high to try and block Hamlin. Suddenly Truex was in the lead on the low side. As Hamlin and Truex charged to the line, they touched and crossed the line with Hamlin edging out Truex by four inches, 001 of a second.
Kyle Busch was scored in third, Harvick was fourth and Edwards rallied back to finish fifth. Joey Logano was sixth, Kyle Larson seventh, Reagan Smith eighth with Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch rounding out the top 10. The Sprint Cup series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway next Sunday. The full race results can be found here.