Denny Hamlin is your 2016 Daytona 500 winner.
And he did it by about four inches. Here’s a look at the final leaderboard, as well as the highlights from one of the most wildest finishes in the history of the Great American Race:
2016 Daytona 500 Leaderboard
|2||Martin Truex, Jr.|
Note: You can find the complete leaderboard here.
Denny Hamlin Squeaks Out the Instant-Classic Victory
Making a push at the last second, Hamlin, who was fourth on the final lap, was able to squeeze around Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth and hold off Martin Truex Jr. by one one-hundredth of a second. Here’s what the closest finish in Daytona 500 history looks like:
Just a couple months removed from a major knee injury, Hamlin earns his first Daytona 500 victory after finishing second and fourth in the two previous years.
Kenseth, who led 40 total laps and most of the final stretch of the race, got shuffled to outside and finished in 14th place in what will be a difficult one for him to swallow.
That about sums it up. This was an instant classic finish and one that’s going to be talked about for a long time.
Danica Patrick Spins Out With Some Help From Greg Biffle
With less than 20 laps remaining, Patrick took some slight contact from Biffle and lost control, going for a wild ride in the infield:
As many were quick to note, Patrick wasn’t completely free of blame:
Biffle also spun out to end his day.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Loses Control With 30 Laps to Go
Coming out of turn No. 4 on lap 169, Junior, who was favored by many to win his third Daytona 500, was sitting in sixth place and looking to make a bold move, but he lost control and spun out, ending his day.
Following what was the fifth caution of the day, Matt Kenseth, who is in a backup car, remained in front.
Matt Kenseth Takes Lead After Green Flag Pit Stops
The first green flag pit stops came with about 40 laps to go. Kenseth and his team took advantage, replacing two tires in lightning-quick fashion to climb to the front of the pack. Hamlin, meanwhile, went with four new tires and fell back to seventh after previously leading for 94 laps.
Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto Involved in Big Wreck
Just a few laps before the midway point of the race, we got our third caution of the day, as Buescher and DiBenedetto were involved in a hard crash. Fortunately, both eventually climbed out of their cars on their own power and were able to walk away.
Hamlin and Truex Jr. restarted on the front row.
Brian Vickers Starts 3-Car Accident, Avoids Damage
Vickers, who is filling in for the injured Tony Stewart, lost control coming out of turn four on lap No. 56. He didn’t receive much damage and was able to stay on the lead lap, but Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne were both involved, with the former receiving the worst of it when he went into the wall.
Before the caution, Denny Hamlin led for 34 laps with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. behind him. Jimmie Johnson came out of the caution in front and led for a handful of laps, but he eventually got hung out and surpassed by the Joe Gibbs Racing train of Busch, Kenseth and Hamlin. Johnson fell all the way outside the Top 10 with the move.
Chase Elliott Out Early
The young pole-sitter had some back luck on lap 20, as he spun out then took some heavy damage when the front of his car hit the grass, forcing the 20-year-old out of his first Daytona 500 (he would later return 40 laps behind). It caused the first caution of the day.
Just before that, Kyle Busch was able to surpass Earnhardt Jr.
The Daytona 500 is Underway
Dale Earnhardt passed teammate Chase Elliott after just three laps, taking early control of the Great American Race:
It’s Daytona International Speedway, so all eyes, of course, will be on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Not only does Junior have a pair of wins at the Daytona 500, but he is widely regarded as NASCAR’s best restrictor-plate driver. In his last eight such races, he has four wins and seven-top finishes, including a dominant victory in the Duel on Thursday.
“This car is something special and I was so nervous today about tearing it up,” he said after winning. “I told Rick [team owner Rick Hendrick] this is one he might want to keep track of to put in the museum one day because it’s done some good things.”
Another one to watch will be Earnhardt Jr.’s teammate, Chase Elliott. Filling the massive shoes of Jeff Gordon in the iconic No. 24 car, the 20-year-old rookie starts on the pole and would be an unbelievable story if he could somehow win the checkered flag.
Of course, as we see so often on restrictor-plate tracks, anything is possible. While there are many favorites to take home the Harley J. Earl Trophy, wrecks are unpredictable and anyone can win.
That’s what makes this one of the most exciting events of the year.