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: Who will win the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte?

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With an average race time of over four hours, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte is one of the most daunting races in the Sprint Cup Series. With the race starting during the day and finishing at night, how can drivers prepare?

NASCAR penalties include indefinite crew member suspension for substance abuse violation

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 15: View of the NASCAR logo  during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 15, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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NASCAR has issued one penalty, one written warning and a crew member suspension following last weekend’s action at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Crew member Kelly Johnson, who was listed as the jackman for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the Sprint Cup Series at the beginning of the season, has been suspended indefinitely. Johnsonviolated Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of the substance abuse policy) of the NASCAR rule book.

This is the second time Johnson has been suspended by NASCAR for violating the rule. The first time came in November 2014. Johnson was not reinstated until last January.

A P3-level penalty has been issued to Jesse Little‘s No. 30 team in the Camping World Truck Series for throttle body shaft and body plates not meeting requirements. Crew chief Mark Rette was fined $5,000. Little didn’t qualify for Saturday’s race after rain canceled qualifying.

The only written warning given out was to the No. 41 of Ben Rhodes for truck trailing arms not meeting specifications. The second warning for Rhodes’ team, a fourth would result in the loss of pit selection.

Ford looking for first Coca-Cola 600 win in 14 years

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Greg Biffle is the oldest active driver in the Sprint Cup Series, but he hasn’t been around the longest.

The 46-year-old driver was 32 when he first broke into Sprint Cup racing in 2002 as a part-time driver competing in seven races for Roush Fenway Racing, Petty Enterprises and Andy Petree Racing.

He would start driving full-time for Roush the following season, but in 2002, Jack Roush fielded four full-time drivers in Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth.

That season also marked the end of a four-year streak of Roush and Ford winning NASCAR’s longest race – the Coca-Cola 600.

Martin’s triumph in the 2002 race – his only win in the 600 –  stands as the last time a Ford-powered car visited victory lane in the Memorial Day weekend event.

Ford has won three of the last nine Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway – one with Roush – but none have come in the May race.

Since Martin’s win, which followed Burton’s victories in 1999 and 2001 and Kenseth’s first-career win in 2000, Ford is 0 – 13.

In those 13 races, the Coke 600 has been won eight times by Chevrolet, three times by Dodge (which left Sprint Cup at the end of 2012) and twice by Toyota.

Toyota claimed win No. 2 last year with Carl Edwards, a former Roush driver. Finishing just behind Edwards was Biffle, who was the runner-up in the 600 for the second time in his career.

Biffle’s result was the best for Ford in the Coke 600 since David Ragan finished second in 2011. Before that, Biffle was runner-up in 2008.

“The Coke 600 is the longest race of the season and gives us an opportunity to work on our car for a long period of time,” Biffle said in a press release. “Charlotte is one of the more temperature sensitive tracks that we race on. Starting in the day and going into evening is a huge factor and why this race is so challenging. Last weekend (in the Sprint Showdown) we had a fast car and were able to race our way into the All-Star race, so I’ve got added confidence going into the Coke 600.”

If Biffle or any Roush driver wins Sunday, it would do a lot for the team.

It would snap a winless streak that stretches back to 2014 at Sonoma Raceway when Edwards won his last race with Roush. A win by Biffle would give him his first win since 2013 at Michigan International Speedway.

And if a Ford not driven by Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano wins, it would be the first by a non-Team Penske Ford since Aric Almirola won the rain-shortened Coke-Zero 400 at Daytona in 2014, a week after Edwards’ Sonoma win.

Watch LIVE: NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Greg Biffle, James Hinchcliffe and more

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America covers both NASCAR and IndyCar and begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Dave Briggs and Parker Kligerman host from Stamford, Connecticut, and are joined by Marty Snider and Greg Biffle from NBC Charlotte and Steve Letarte in Burton’s Garage.

Included in today’s show is:

· Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race was a good one for Greg Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing team. The driver of the No. 16 Cheez-It Ford joins the show to discuss the race, Roush’s improved performance in 2016 and what it’s like to be the veteran driver on a young team.

· From nearly bleeding to death in a practice crash last year at Indianapolis to winning the pole for Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500, IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is writing an incredible comeback story – one he hopes to complete with a “500” victory. Dave Briggs and Parker Kligerman sit down with Hinchcliffe to discuss the dramatic year he’s had and his feelings going into a historic afternoon at the Brickyard.

· Parker Kligerman breaks down the on-track moves that won and lost Saturday’s All-Star Race and Sprint Showdown at Charlotte.

· And with the NASCAR Hall of Fame set to announce its Class of 2017 tomorrow, we’ll look at the nominees that are up for the sport’s highest honor and have a special “nominee edition” of My Home Track. Tune into NASCAR AMERICA tomorrow at 5pm ET to see the inductees announced live – exclusively on NBCSN.