MIAMI, Florida: Denny Hamlin roared from fourth on the last lap to edge Martin Truex at the finish line and capture the closest-ever Daytona 500 by .01 of a second on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
It was the first victory in 11 attempts for the 35-year-old American at the US stock car season opener, the biggest race in the oval series that is the most popular form of US auto racing.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know what happened. It just came from where it did.”
Hamlin’s win was also the first victory for enginemaker Toyota in the feature race of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) campaign, topping a podi-um sweep for the Japanese firm.
“This is amazing for Toyota,” Hamlin said.
Matt Kenseth led as the last of 200 laps around the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) oval began, but Hamlin went to the outside and surged into second. Kenseth moved to the outside but Hamlin dropped to the middle of the track and passed him, moving alongside Truex as they came around the final turn.
They sped to the line side by side and a photo finish showed Hamlin the winner by barely a fender.
“I did all I could,” Truex said. “I had the lead. Really proud of that effort. I thought I could keep that foot or so. I lost it in the last second.”
Kyle Busch was third with Kevin Harvick fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.
Dale Earhardt Jr., who fielded perhaps the strongest car this week, crashed into the inside wall coming off Turn 3 with 30 laps to go when he tried to squeeze into the inner line of cars and lost control. Earnhardt bounced off the wall and came to a stop in the grass, and finished 36th.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott, the 20-year-old son of two-time Daytona winner Bill Elliott, was involved in a wreck on the front straightaway with Regan Smith and Carl Edwards in lap 20 – coming to a halt in nearly the same spot as Earnhardt — and eventually finished 37th. Elliott replaced the retired Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet.
In addition to winning the pole, Elliott captured the Xfinity Series race on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
AFP WITH REPORT FROM TNS