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

Rusty Wallace finishes 10th in final Ferrari Finali Mondiali race

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In the final 35-minute Trofeo Pirelli race of the Ferrari Finali Mondiali, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace finished 10th overall for his best result of the four-day event.

Driving for Risi Competizione/Ferrari of Houston, Wallace’s top 10 bettered his results of 15th and 32nd in the second and third days of the event, which was held at Daytona International Speedway for the first time.

In Sunday’s race, Wallace finished third in the Professional, North America class.

“I told myself that after the struggles we’d had, that if I could walk out with a solid top 10 in the finals I’d be happy,” Wallace said in a reale from the track. “The team did great and I learned a ton. We’ve been here five days, run 1,000 laps and we don’t have a dent on the car.

“This was totally out of the box for me. It was a great opportunity from Ferrari, Risi and Daytona. We had a nice solid run and we had a lot of NASCAR fans here, too.”

German driver Thomas Loefflad won the Coppa Shell event. Venezuelan Carlos Kauffmann won the Trofeo Pirelli race Wallace took part in.

Report: Chrysler CEO: ‘Possible we can come back to NASCAR’ after 2012 departure

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FIAT and Chairman of Ferrari in the Paddock  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 4, 2016 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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During the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told The Daytona-Beach News Journal he thinks “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.”

Chrysler owns the Dodge brand, which left NASCAR’s top three series following the 2012 season after having returned to the sport in 2001. The departure came right after Brad Keselowski and Team Penske won Dodge a Cup championship.

Currently, only Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are in NASCAR’s top circuits, though some small Xfinity Series teams still use old Dodge bodies and the NASCAR Pinty’s Series is still supported by Dodge.

Marchionne told the News Journal he met with NASCAR vice-chairman Jim France and International Speedway Inc. CEO Lesa France Kennedy Saturday night and discussed the possibility of Dodge returning to the NASCAR fold.

“We are in a different place now,” Marchionne said, also noting it was his decision to leave the sport after the financial crisis that began in 2008. “I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue.”

Dodge won 57 races in the Cup series from 2001-2012.

Click here for the Daytona Beach News Journal’s full report.

Snowball Derby in rain delay

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The 49th annual Snowball Derby, being held at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, is in a rain delay after being scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET.

The race will feature NASCAR drives William Byron, John Hunter Nemechek, Grant Enfinger, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Christopher Bell and others.

The rain at the track began in at morning and has stopped for now.

When the race is finally run, it can be watched with a $30 purchase at speed51.com.

Rusty Wallace finishes 32nd in Day Three of Ferrari Finali Mondiali

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace had a disappointing outing in the third day of the Ferrari Finali Mondiali a day after earning a podium finish in his class.

Wallace, driving for Risi Competizione/Ferrari of Houston in the event at Daytona International Speedway, finished 32nd in the second Trofeo Pirelli race after a receiving a pass through penalty for driving through the “Bus Stop” on the back stretch. Wallace was forced to do so after he lost brake pressure while exiting the Turn 2 of the main portion of the track.

Wallace was running 14th at the time of the penalty but wound up posting the fastest speed on Saturday at 192.563 mph.

“I actually think we had a better run today,” Wallace said. “Now we’ll go back, work on these brakes, tune it up and get ready for the last race tomorrow – the World Final.

“Our lap times were great, lot better than Friday. We’ve got a little bit of work to do on the car but I think my driving’s improved a ton [this weekend.]”

Wallace finished 15th in his Friday race to earn a podium finish in his class.

A live stream of the World Final can be watched here.