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.

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Regan Smith will drive No. 43 in Coke 600 for injured Aric Almirola

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Regan Smith will once again drive the No. 43 Ford in place of the injured Aric Almirola this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600.

Smith’s role as a substitute driver for Richard Petty Motorsports continues after he stepped in for Almirola last weekend in the Monster Energy Open. Smith finished fourth in the final stage of the race.

Almirola is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks as he recovers from a T5 compression fracture in his back. Almirola suffered the injury at Kansas Speedway in a major three-car crash.

MORE: Aric Almirola recounts Kansas crash.

Smith will be making his first start in a Cup points race this year. He currently drives for Ricky Benton Racing in the Camping World Truck Series.

Smith has 11 Cup starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a best finish of eighth in the 2011 Coke 600.

“To me, there are a lot of cool things about helping out again this weekend,” Smith said in a press release. “Being able to represent the Air Force on Memorial Day weekend and show appreciation to those who make the ultimate sacrifice is very special to me. I’m honored to race with Senior Airmen Mark Forester on the car and pay tribute to his sacrifice. As I said many times last weekend, to get to drive ‘The King’s’ 43 car means so much to me. The Coca-Cola 600 is one of my favorite races of the year, and Sunday is the coolest motorsports day. It will be a lot more fun being a part of such an iconic day than just being a spectator for all of the races.”

 

NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN: 2018 Hall of Fame class named

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes on NBCSN from 5:30 p.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut while Krista Voda anchors coverage from the NASCAR Hall of Fame for today’s naming of the Hall’s 2018 induction class. Voda will be joined by Jeff Burton and Nate Ryan.

On today’s show:

  • Today we are live from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, where we’ll reveal the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class as well as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Plus, we’ll hear from the members of the newly elected class while our panel of experts weigh-in with their reactions.
  • Marty Snider will also be at the Hall for several interviews.

Just a reminder, on Friday we’ll preview the biggest day in motorsports with reports from Monaco, Indianapolis, and of course, Charlotte. It’s the NASCAR America Motorsports Special at 3:30 ET on NBCSN.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Kevin Harvick: Current state of Truck Series schedule ‘makes me mad’

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Not long after NASCAR unveiled the 2018 schedules for its three national series, Kevin Harvick went on a rant about the current state of the Camping World Truck Series schedule, saying “it makes me mad.”

“The Truck schedule is racing at a ton of the wrong race tracks,” Harvick said Tuesday on his weekly SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hour. “They should be back at Louisville (Motor Speedway), they should be back at some of these grassroots race tracks. The Truck Series should be helping us build our grassroots program, from Late Models on up, by having a Truck race there.”

With NASCAR trying to find ways to win the hearts and minds of new fans, Harvick believes the Truck Series, which debuted in 1995, is an unused tool for strengthening the sport’s fan base.

“In order to help our sport to produce from the bottom up, we have to help figure out how to get the grassroots program where they need to be and that’s what we need to be using the Truck Series for,” said Harvick, a 14-time Truck winner and former Truck team owner. “Go to these grassroots race tracks and guess what? That’s where the Trucks need to be racing because they’re going to put 10 to 15,000 people in the grandstands every week to watch these races because they’re unique events.”

“They don’t want to show up on a Friday at Dover (International Speedway) and watch these trucks drive around the race track because they’re going to show up on Sunday to watch the Cup cars. Take the trucks somewhere where everybody wants to see them, because there’s short tracks across the country that want to see them.

“Sorry, I’m on a rant. It make me mad.”

Harvick’s thoughts about reaching fans are in addition to those made by Kyle Larson earlier this year about how NASCAR should encourage its stars to race at short tracks in smaller series.

Harvick is doing a variation of this later this season. He will competes in the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway the weekend of the Cup Series race on the road course.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver broke into NASCAR via the Truck Series in the first year of its existence. He made his debut in 1995 at Mesa Marin Raceway in his hometown of Bakersfield, California.

Of the 18 tracks the series competed on in 1995, it still races at only three – Martinsville, Phoenix Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

“The Trucks should be opening up in January like they used to at Tuscon Raceway Park or the Copperworld Classic when it was at Phoenix,” Harvick said. “Let the Truck Series start our season in January so they can have exposure on TV by themselves. If the Cup guys want to go out there and race, that’s fine. Let them go race. Because that’s going to help put fans in the grandstands.

“Myself and Greg Biffle and Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner, guess what? We’d never make to it to Cup racing, Truck racing or anything else that we do because we wouldn’t have been on TV if they didn’t have ‘Winter Heat’ and all these different series. In order to produce young stars and expose them to the public you have to start them from the grassroots level up.

“You can’t keep lollygagging along with the Truck Series at these race tracks and expect people to show up.”

Harvick cited the lack of SAFER barrier at short tracks as an excuse given for why the Truck Series doesn’t race at more short tracks.

“Let’s figure out a way to help these tracks get soft walls if that’s what it takes for them to get a Truck race,” Harvick said.

Next year, the Truck Series will have 23 races beginning on Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway and ending on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The biggest change to the schedule is the Truck Series loses it standalone race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. Instead, the Truck Series will visit the track with the Cup and Xfinity Series twice on March 2 and Sept. 19.

The March 2 race in Las Vegas gives the Truck series three straight races to begin the season. For the last three seasons, the series competed at Daytona and Atlanta before going quiet until late March at Martinsville Speedway and then taking another month off until an early May race at Kansas Speedway.

From 2012-14, the series held no races between Daytona and Martinsville. Atlanta was added the week following Daytona in 2015.

The Truck Series’ Dover race moves from early June to May 4 next year, which shortens the break following the Martinsville race. The series will not be returning to New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the track loses one of its NASCAR weekends.

The Truck Series will now only have four standalone events in 2018: Texas Motor Speedway (June 8), Gateway Motorsports Park (June 23), Eldora Speedway (July 18) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (August 26).

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Indy President: Indianapolis and NASCAR are ‘about the oval’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles confirmed to NBC Sports that discussions were had about shifting the Brickyard 400 to the road course before the decision was made to keep the NASCAR Cup Series on the 2.5-mile oval

The track’s NASCAR weekend shifts from late July to Sept. 9 next year. The track will host the final Cup race before the playoffs begin.

Boles said Wednesday that the road course was considered an option but rejected for multiple reasons.

“As fans know and as we know and as NASCAR knows, the Brickyard 400 over the last several years has struggled,” Boles told NBC Sports. “We believe to continue to make it viable and frankly to grow it, we had to look at everything.

“We actually had a conversation about the road course in February in Daytona. Mark (Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., INDYCAR and IMS parent company) and I met with the folks in NASCAR in New York City. We talked it through.

“Ultimately, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is about the oval and NASCAR is about the oval. What makes this race special for the drivers is they get to drive on a track that Ray Harroun ran on, Wilbur Shaw won on, and you can recall the names that meant something to this sport.

“We felt committed to making the oval work.”

It was the heat, Boles said, that was the primary factor for the move to the fall. Boles noted the customer feedback from annual surveys and said that more than the racing product on track, heat was an overriding complaint.

“We survey our fans after every year,” Boles said. “The one thing we hear more than anything, the biggest complaint about the Indy 500 is the heat in the middle of the summer and you can’t shade this place. You can’t add more shade. The heat is the number one factor. We would make a move to move it out of the heat.

“Now we’ve moved it to an event where they will crown their regular season champion and they will set their 16 drivers for the playoffs. For us, that is another talking point.

“This addresses the number one concern that our customer has. The second or third, depending on the year, is that the race is just a race and doesn’t have real meaning to the rest of the season, so now we’ve also addressed that concern as well.”

One concern that arises from a September date is the potential of going head-to-head with the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL traditionally releases its schedule in April, so NASCAR will know whether the Colts are in town on Sunday, Sept. 9 well in advance.

Boles and IMS are already working toward an amenable solution.

“We completely understand it’s NFL season, and we’re in a city where the Colts are,” he said. “So we have begun those conversations, even ahead of announcing this with the folks at the Colts, so we can do the best we can to limit the weekends we go head to head with the Colts in this market.”