Denny Hamlin holds off Martin Truex Jr. to earn closest win in Daytona 500 history

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Denny Hamlin held off Martin Truex Jr. to win Sunday’s 58th Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway by .01 of a second, the closest finish in the history of the Great American Race since the advent of electronic timing and scoring.

Truex looked like he might win, but Hamlin surged just before the start-finish line to take the checkered flag. It was Hamlin’s first career win in 11 starts in the 500, and also the first win with new crew chief Mike Wheeler.

“This is the best,” Hamlin said in victory lane. “I mean, it’s just the best. It’s the biggest race of my life. The Daytona 500. This is the pinnacle of our sport and I’m just proud to be here.”

Truex finished second, followed by defending Sprint Cup champ Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards in fifth.

“I did all I could do,” Truex said. “I’m really proud of that effort. He just side-drafted me. I probably should have run (Hamlin) up a little more. I lost it at the last second.”

Sixth through 10th were defending 500 winner Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Regan Smith, Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch.

Matt Kenseth led heading into the final lap, but Hamlin got a strong run on the backstretch. Kenseth tried to block his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, bumped fenders with Hamlin’s car, and was forced to back off to avoid wrecking.

Kenseth, who was hoping for his third Daytona 500 win, finished 14th.

Hamlin led the most laps (95) of the 200-lap event, followed by Kenseth’s 40 laps, Kyle Busch’s 19 laps, Jimmie Johnson (18) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15).

Earnhardt was involved in a hard wreck on Lap 169 and finished 36th, one spot ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series DAYTONA 500

HOW HAMLIN WON: The driver of the No. 11 Toyota was running fourth when the final lap began. He got a great push from Kevin Harvick, muscled his way past Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who tried to block him, and then got a late surge coming down the frontstretch to beat Truex to the finish line. Hamlin becomes only the fifth driver in NASCAR history to win both the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 in the same edition of Speedweeks. The others to do so were Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1987), Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000) and Jeff Gordon in 1997

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Furniture Row Racing switched from Chevrolet to Toyota this year for Martin Truex Jr., as well as established a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. As a result, JGR essentially had four drivers in the top five: Hamlin, Truex, Kyle Busch and Edwards. … Kyle Busch scored a top-five finish after missing this race a year ago when he was injured in the Xfinity race the day before the 500. … Regan Smith, who spun early in the race, finished eighth for his third top-10 in his last five Daytona 500 starts.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: One of the favorites to win, Dale Earmhardt Jr., wrecked on Lap 169. Earnhardt’s car got loose and hit the retaining wall coming off Turn 4. “It caught me by surprise there,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports. “We were starting to move forward, getting aggressive and yeah, I just lost it.” … Pole sitter Chase Elliott spun into the infield grass on Lap 19, suffering splitter and right side damage. He had to be towed back to the garage. He returned to the track on Lap 60 after repairs were made.  … On Lap 183, Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle tangled, with Patrick’s car suffering heavy damage. She ultimately went to the garage on Lap 186 and finished 35th. … The day ended early on Lap 92 for Matt DiBenedetto and 2015 Xfinity Series champ Chris Buescher, who wrecked together, with both cars suffering heavy damage. Buescher finished 39th, DiBenedetto last in the 40-car field.

NOTABLE: Hamlin gave team president J.D. Gibbs perhaps his greatest birthday present. Gibbs, who has battled health issues the last year, turned 47 on Sunday. … Brian Vickers, replacing the injured Tony Stewart, was involved in a wreck but came back to finish 26th.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t know where that came from, I don’t know what happened, I can’t even figure out what I did, but it all just came together.” – said Denny Hamlin, who shed tears as he held his longtime girlfriend and their baby daughter.

WHAT’S NEXT: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday, Feb. 28, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America: Tony Stewart reflects on Hall of Fame racing career

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 22:  (L-R) Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Advanced Fuel Economy Chevrolet, talks crew chief Mike Bugarewicz during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TOYOTA OWNERS 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 22, 2016 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
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Tony Stewart talks about what he remembers from his rookie campaign in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and remembers how he and NBC analyst Dale Jarrett came to be close friends.

NASCAR America: Xfinity’s Elliott Sadler surprised by relief from Kentucky win

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Xfinity Series driver Elliott Sadler talks with NASCAR America about the relief the comes with having won the first race in the Chase and actually being unprepared for the amount of relief he felt.

Justin Allgaier sees Dover as only true ‘unknown’ of Xfinity Chase

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 LetsTalkFood.com Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 17, 2016 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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There’s one big rule of thumb for Justin Allgaier when it comes to the concrete high banks at Dover International Speedway.

“What goes up, must come down,” Allgaier says.

Dover, with its 24-degree banking and one of the oldest track surfaces in NASCAR, made Allgaier circle the “Monster Mile” as the biggest unknown of the seven races in the Xfinity Chase. Dover is the second Chase race after the opener at Kentucky Speedway.

“A lot of the racetracks we go to are mile-and-a-half in our series Chase,” Allgaier said while promoting the Chase in Philadelphia. “We know what to expect. Even Phoenix … we understand what to expect. But Dover is the one, it’s a tricky racetrack to begin with, just by yourself.”

Of the seven Chase races, only Dover and Phoenix are shorter than 1.5-miles. Allgaier started from the pole at Dover in May after winning the first heat race and finished fourth.

“The biggest challenge is the banking,” Allgaier said. “As cars slide back down the pavement, as things transpire through the course of the race, it’s really hard to get away from other competitors, especially if they’re in trouble or they’re having crashes.”

In the last five Xfinity Dover races, there have been an average of 3.8 cautions. The most was five in the fall 2014 race.

“Another challenge is just not beating yourself,” Allgaier continued. “It’s one of those places that you can overdrive and blow a tire or overdrive and crash yourself really easily. From my standpoint, you’re going to have to almost back it down a little bit, even though you need the speed to run up front and to be competitive. I think you’re going to back it down just a touch to be there at the end to even have a shot to go for the win.”

Heading into the Drive Sober 200, Allgaier is sixth on the Xfinity Chase grid, which is a small miracle in itself. At Kentucky, Allgaier and his No. 7 Chevrolet were in fourth when they were involved in a Lap 130 crash with Sam Hornish Jr. that damaged Allgaier’s front fender. But by the end of the night, with the help of a late caution that took out Erik Jones and Ty Dillon, Allgaier finished ninth.

But Allgaier is only two points ahead of the cutoff spot in eighth.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Allgaier said of Kentucky. “We really shouldn’t have had the speed that we did to get back up through the field and to be able to get into ninth even. For that, I’m excited. However, because of the points being reset, because of the Chase format, it’s dropped us farther in the series points then I would like. It’s not like there’s a comfortable zone without a win, but at the same time I do feel like the higher up you are on the board, the more comfortable you can be going into each and everyone of these races.”

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson: ‘We just need to stay on lead lap at Dover’

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Jimmie Johnson‘s Chase hasn’t gotten off to the start he wanted, but he’s still had plenty of speed through the first two races and has a positive outlook going into the elimination race at Dover. NASCAR America spoke with him Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Paint the Pit Road Pink event for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.