Daytona Rear-View Mirror

NASCAR

Denny Hamlin won his first career Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday and earned the first victory in the Daytona 500 for Toyota. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – News, notes and observations from the 58th running of the Daytona 500 and Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.

Chamber of Commerce weather. An intriguing race. An historic finish.

That about sums up Sunday’s 58th running of the Daytona 500. A picture-perfect Florida afternoon of blue skies and warm temperatures topped off a Speedweeks that might have been the best weather-wise in about a decade. After a 2015 season that featured a record number of weather delays and postponements, right out of the box the new year started on the right foot.

While there were portions of “The Great American Race” that featured more single file than side-by-side racing, that didn’t stop the plethora of story lines from breaking out periodically to keep things interesting.

It all came to a crescendo in a final laps game of chess between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch fighting with alliance partner Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano for the win.

Hamlin eventually made the daring move to the high side in Turn 3 and 4 and somehow found a way past Kenseth, who had led 40 laps, and ahead of Truex Jr. at the checkered flag to score victory in the 500’s closest finish in history.

And even better the climactic ending didn’t feature a scary, multi-car crash; a scenario that has unfortunately marred recent trips to Daytona.

It’s exactly what NASCAR needed. An exciting race that ended with a photo finish sure to make the highlight reels of sports and newscasts around the country.

Atlanta, you’re next up.

  • The finishing results of Sunday’s race had some surprise names near the top of the list including Carl Edwards, who somehow managed to get back to the front of the field after receiving early damage in an incident and falling a lap off the pace. Once Edwards got back on the lead lap he was able to draft back up for the solid finish. Kyle Larson had never finished better than 34th in any of his five Daytona starts, but the third-year driver was stellar when it counted to come home seventh…And Regan Smith wound up at Tommy Baldwin Racing only weeks ago but wasted no time making an impact by notching an eighth-place finish for the small organization.
  • The more than two-year Daytona Rising project made its official debut during Speedweeks and the $400 million project lived up to its advanced billing. What’s now called a motorsports stadium brings to auto racing many of the amenities fans of other sports enjoy including walkways, displays, additional concession stands, restroom facilities, wider aisles, roomier seats and improved sightlines. It’s a project that will more than likely trigger other tracks to make upgrades and renovations to facilities. In the end the commitment to improving the overall experience will be a total win for fans, as it is now at Daytona.
  • It was unfortunately an extremely disappointing day for a trio of young drivers including pole sitter Chase Elliott, who started from the pole but was taken out of contention for the win after a lap 20 spin. Another pair of youngsters escaped injury when last year’s XFINITY Series champion Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto crashed hard on lap 92 as they raced through Turn 2. Both cars were severely damaged but the duo climbed out their cars albeit woozy but otherwise uninjured.
  • Tony Stewart continues to recover from the back injury suffered in an ATV accident a few weeks ago. He gave an update on his progress with a phone call to the FOX television crew during Sunday’s Daytona 500 broadcast. "[I] don't even get X-rayed again until March 9," Stewart said. "So we're really not going to know what the progress of the bone is. Myself personally I've been up getting around a lot each day, I can tell a noticeable difference each day from the previous day so I am feeling a lot better and [am] on a mission to get back to the race track. That's probably been the hardest part of the last 10 days is not being at the track, not seeing the officials, guys from the other team, everything from Speedweeks."

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