Denny Hamlin had the dominant car in the Daytona 500, leading a race-high 95 laps. The Sprint Unlimited winner last Saturday evening was victorious of Martin Truex, Jr. in the closest finish in the race’s 58-year history.

The No. 11 car margin of victory was .011 seconds. All day long it was Toyota’s in the front of the field, led by the foursome of Joe Gibbs Racing and contributed by Furniture Row Racing in its first race in a Camry.

Hamlin was running fourth as the field passed the finish line with one to go. Going into Turn 1 he made a bold move to the outside getting a push from Kevin Harvick, drafting him all the way to third when race leader Matt Kenseth went to block the No. 11 car, the two made contact sending the No. 20 team to the back.

It was then a dog fight down the front stretch to see who was going to claim victory, but in the end it was Hamlin who just edged Truex by inches.

“It’s storybook,” Hamlin said. “You want to win the close ones, it’s what makes it exciting. You make a pass on the last lap to win the Daytona 500. We all want to win for the Gibbs family because that is what they do. It’s good to see a family organization like this win the biggest race of the year.”

This marks Toyota’s first Daytona 500 win as an organization and its Joe Gibbs Racing’s first Daytona 500 win since 1993 when Dale Jarrett took the No. 18 team to victory.

In his first race back in a Toyota, Truex finished in a disappointing second and came up just short of writing his name in the history books as a Daytona 500 champion.

Though, he only led two laps on the afternoon, he was in a backup car after crashing in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. He believes that the only shot he had at the victory was Kenseth’s move to block Hamlin.

“I felt like Matt (Kenseth) moving up to block that run, it gave us the best opportunity to win,” Truex said. “Without that we weren’t going to have that opportunity. I was really planning on trying to push Matt till off of four.”

365 days following his vicious crash in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona, Kyle Busch finished third in his first race back in the Great American Race since 2014.

There were stints in the race that the No. 18 car was the car out front pacing the field for 19 laps. This is his best career finish in a Daytona 500.

The first non-Toyota finisher was Kevin Harvick, whom finished fourth. The No. 4 car was near the front for the majority of the first run of the race, until the car wiggled off Turn 4, causing him to have an incredible save.

“The problem for us started early in the race when I got spun out and lost track position and never really got the track position back until the very end of the race,” Harvick said. “We were really in a good spot there as we were coming to the checkered flag. I just wanted to be that first car in the outside line and Denny wounded up popping out in front of us and winning the race.”

Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. He had to overcome an incident on Lap 56 where his No. 19 Camry got turned into the outside wall costing him to lose a couple of laps. After getting back on the lead lap, he methodically worked his way up to run with his teammates and evidently found them on the last restart with 12 laps to go.

The right front of the car was torn off following the checkered flag, causing Edwards to wonder how he was able to stay up in the lead pack, drafting and having a shot at the victory.

Last year’s Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano finished just outside the top five in sixth. He was very aggressive throughout the entirety of the event, but could never get his Fusion out front. With a couple of laps to go he made a move trying to gain track position and go to the front, but had no help.

Regan Smith placed eighth in the 500, one position short of his career best in this event. However, for a deal that got signed one month ago to the day, putting him back full-time in a Cup car with Tommy Baldwin Racing, he considered this experience as an “awesome race.”

After leading going into Turn 3 on the final lap Kenseth came home in a disappointing 14th. He was roughly 1000 yards from cementing his legacy has a three-time Daytona 500 winner, but dropped 13 positions in the time back to the checkered flag.

The No. 20 car was out front for 40 laps, second most of all drivers, but knows that the restrictor plate tracks fill the minority of the schedule.

The complex of the race changed on Lap 170 when pre-race favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun into the inside wall. After having a big run on the outside he overcorrected his car in Turn 4 and lost control.

The disappointing 36th-place finish is not how the 13-time most popular driver wanted to start off his year. This put an end to his four consecutive top five-streak in the Daytona 500.

Pole-sitter Chase Elliott had an eventful day from the very first lap. After being out front for the opening three circuits, the No. 24 lost control of his car out of Turn 4 much like his teammate did later in the race.  A 37th-place result is not the way that the Cup rookie wanted to start off his campaign.

After one of the more exciting Daytona 500 in recent years, the Cup Series takes its circus to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend to truly start off the new season.

Practice One:

The Sprint Cup Series took part in two practice sessions on Friday afternoon. Like every other year in Speedweeks, all of the cars don’t particularly make a lap on the track. However, the car that crashed in the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday evening saw it as an opportunity to test out their new Daytona 500 car.

Opening practice was strictly for one car speed as there was no drafting. After crashing in the final lap of his Duel race on Thursday, Jimmie Johnson was quickest at a speed of 194.083 mph. Other than Brian Scott who also crashed on the last lap of his Duel, the No. 48 car was the only team to hit track in its backup car.

Scott placed the No. 44 car 12th out of the 13 cars who took part in opening practice. Denny Hamlin who led 13 laps on Thursday night and won the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday was second fast at a speed of 193.861 mph.

Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott posted the third fastest time, followed by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Kasey Kahne in the top five.

As well as recording the fastest overall lap, Johnson also ran 24 laps, the most out of all 13 drivers in the first practice session.

Practice Two:

During the second Cup Series practice 31 cars took time led by Hamlin. While running in a pack, he put a lap up of 199.658 mph. The top five teams in the latter practice were all part of the Toyota camp in Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.

Thursday night Duel winner Kyle Busch was second quick, followed by Martin Truex, Jr. in his backup car. The No. 78 car ran 15 laps with his new racecar and felt good about how it felt in the draft.

“As far as I can tell it feels real similar,” Truex said of his backup car. “The only drafting we did in our primary was the other day with the Gibbs cars and our Toyota teammates, basically, the same situation as today. It’s hard to tell until you get into race conditions. Hopefully, it will react as well as it did last night in the big pack. I don’t know if it was the strongest car, but it was a good fifth to 10th-place car.”

Carl Edwards finished the practice with the fourth quickest lap. The No. 19 car was on track for 22 laps, the most of any driver in the second practice session. ‘

After crashing on Thursday night, Matt Kenseth had a hot lap of 198.566 mph in his backup car. The No. 20 team was scheduled to start on the outside of the front row in the Daytona 500 until the crash last night where he got into the back of Truex.

“It’s hard to tell with not many cars out there,” Kenseth said of how his backup car is. “We probably won’t know until the race gets going on Sunday, but the speed seemed to be reasonable.”

Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano have formed an alliance of sorts this weekend as they finished practice sixth and seventh after helping each other to second and third-place finishes on Thursday night. Both teams ran for 10 laps and never left each other’s bumpers.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished the practice session in 11th. The No. 88 car named “Amelia” has never finished worse than third in any race that it has ever been entered in at either Daytona or Talladega. With a win in Duel one on Thursday, Earnhardt is one of the favorites for Sunday.

Johnson finished the second practice session with the 12th fastest time and AJ Allmendinger was 28th in his first time out on track with a backup car.

After receiving damage in his Can-Am Duel race Kurt Busch did not participate in practice on Friday, but will take part on Saturday in the final practice.

Out of cars that ran 10 consecutive laps, Edwards had the fastest time at an average of 197.186 mph. The first four drivers in that category were also all Toyotas, as they look to be stronger than some former Speedweeks.

There is just one practice session remaining between now and the Daytona 500, which will take place at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday.

The Can-Am Duels at Daytona did not disappoint this year. Throughout the majority of both races, there was action packed racing, two and even three-wide at some points. Like always, there were some cars that stood out and others that finished better than what they ran. That’s restrictor plate racing.

Duel One:

In the opening Duel race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. proved that he will have one of the cars to beat on Sunday in the 58th Annual Daytona 500.

It didn’t take long for the restrictor plate veteran to prove that he had the best car in the first Can-Am Duel. It took him just two laps to take the top spot away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott. He held the lead until his pit stop until Lap 40.

The No. 88 car dominated the first Duel as he led 43 of the races 60 laps, but had to overcome adversity in the late stages. With just a handful of laps to go, Earnhardt was shuffled back to sixth while Denny Hamlin as on point.

With just over one lap to go, Earnhardt had to hold off a charging Joey Logano will help from Ryan Blaney from the Wood Brothers, an affiliate of Team Penske. Even with the two drivers pairing up they were unable to pass the No. 88 team.

In his post-race press conference Earnhardt eluded to his car as special and knowing that he has one of the cars to beat.

“That was crazy,” Earnhardt said on the race. “I was so nervous today about tearing the car up because I know how good it is versus what we have. What we have is a capable car in the trailer, but this thing is special. So I’m really excited.”

The defending Daytona 500 winner, Logano, finished second after getting shuffled back after his green flag pit stop. The No. 22 car was aggressive and made dicey moves in-and-out of traffic, much like his teammate Brad Keselowski who finished in a disappointing 13th.

Blaney is headlining into his second career Daytona 500, and as a rookie he stated his case as to why teams should work with him in the actual race. Last season the No. 21 car had one top-five finish coming at Talladega, the other plate track.

“We had a really fast racecar,” Blaney said. “We had a couple of problems early in the race which got us a lap down. Luckily we got a caution at the right point that got us on the lead lap so we could go racing for it.”

One lap prior to the halfway point, Blaney had a loose left-rear tire that the team accidently left loose prior to the 150-mile event. Evidently, the team overcame the bad luck and got a top-five finish.

Kevin Harvick finished fourth after starting in the rear and had a real shot the win while running second with four laps to go. The Sprint Unlimited winner Hamlin rounded out the top five and led 13 laps in the process.

With Blaney finishing in third and a 13th-place finish Michael McDowell came out on top in the race within the race, the race just to make the Daytona 500. On Lap 42, Cole Whitt had a big run on the No. 95 car that when he went to make a move to pass McDowell he overcorrected and spun out, ending his chance at competing in the Great American Race.

The other driver that McDowell had to beat was Josh Wise and he finished in 17th.

“It’s definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport-Levin Family Racing, we’re going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 especially for a small team” McDowell said on making the Daytona 500. “To really start out the year well, it’s very important. This is such a huge race.”

Duel Two:

The latter of the two 150-mile races was very tame until the last couple of laps. As Kyle Busch went on to dominate the event, a multi-car pileup on the last lap cost many of top drivers’ valuable starting positions for the Daytona 500.

It all started to go downhill with two laps to go when Casey Mears was running the second position and ran out of gas. The No. 13 car had just been placed into the second position and then ran out of gas, while trying to make a move on Busch.

As the lead pack of 11 cars darted in to Turn 1 on the last lap, Jamie McMurray made a move to try and win the race when he looked to the inside of the No. 18 car. While coming back up the track he clipped the front end of Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, causing a five car crash, including Matt Kenseth who was scheduled to start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday.

Also getting in the crash were A.J. Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and Martin Truex Jr.

With Kenseth likely going to a backup car, it will move Busch to the outside of the front row, alongside 20-year-old rookie Chase Elliott.

“I think I get to start on the front row,” Busch said. “I didn’t win this race to qualify myself for the fourth starting position, but with our teammate having trouble there at the end of the race, they’ll have to go a backup car, it looks. Well get the chance to start on the front row. That’s pretty cool.”

The accident looked to be the cause of all drivers going for it and getting the best starting position that they could. However, the end result was that three of the 500 favorites will now start in the rear.

“I was behind it to see it so I couldn’t really tell why the No. 48 went up the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “I was actually just in the process to get out of there and go to the back. I thought we had the best car and we led a lot of laps.”

Kenseth mentioned that this will be the No. 20 team’s third car of Speedweeks as he also crashed in the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday.

In this Duel it was Robert Richardson, Jr. who was able to fall back on his qualifying speed from last Sunday as his teammate Matt DiBenedetto finished the highest out of the cars that needed to race their way in. David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson will miss the 500-mile spectacle.

 “Two weeks ago when I got the call to run this race, I was mowing the hay pastures,” Richardson said. “I’m just very blessed to be here.”

There are three practice sessions for teams to tune up their primary or backup cars to try and win the biggest race in motorsports. The team that is able to adapt to the conditions of the race and keep up with the pace being set will find themselves the winner of the Daytona 500.

The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway may have been a non-points event but Joe Gibbs Racing continued their dominance. This time it was the No. 11 FedEx Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin that captured the victory, which marks his third win in the preseason event. After starting 15th on the grid, he led 39 of 79 laps on the 2.5-mile track, the most by any driver in the race that extended into overtime.

This marked the first career Sprint Unlimited win for crew chief Mike Wheeler atop the pit box as a rookie. “I’m so happy for (Mike Wheeler) to start one-for-one with a good win at Daytona.” Hamlin said. “This win couldn’t be possible without my teammates. Matt (Kenseth) sacrificed so much pushing me at the right time. Total team effort just like Kyle’s (Busch) championship. We win as a team and this was a Joe Gibbs Racing win.”

Although the field of 25 drivers battled loose race cars all night, it wasn’t until the final laps of the race where things started to get intense. With three laps to go, caution came out, which would lead to NASCAR’s version of overtime. Hamlin and the No. 22 of Joey Logano were racing in a dead heat before the yellow came out again. Although the field had already crossed the ‘overtime’ line, before the final ‘big one. Hamlin was then able to coast to the checkers with Logano finishing second.

Although Logano had to settle for runner up, he was still pleased with his performance in the 79-lap race. “I had a great Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion and we kept working our way up from the back and it was hard for us to get that lead,” Logano said. “We were so close, right next to the 11 when they started crashing there. It’s a good start for the weekend and I’m proud of what we did.”

Paul Menard took home a third-place finish for Richard Childress Racing. The driver of the No. 27 Peak Antifreeze/Menards Chevrolet struggled with speed but was pleased with the way his car drafted. “It was a lot of fun,” Menard said. “I picked some wrong lanes and some right lanes, and in the end, the middle worked pretty well. It was a wild race."

Although Jimmie Johnson started on the pole, the No. 48 team’s luck didn’t continue as Johnson was involved in a crash at lap 43. “I could see the hole closing up. I was trying to get out of it and I avoided crashing the two guys that closed the door on me but I got hit from behind and that’s what sent me down through the infield,” he explained. “I was just trying hard. I was trying to see what I could get away with and what I couldn’t by being aggressive.”

Although the driver of the Lowes’ Chevrolet wrecked, he still believes he and his team learned a lot for next week’s Daytona 500. “This car isn’t like the other car,” he said. “But being in the car and trying to set up passes and getting onto pit road; all those things were really helpful.”

Results
  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Paul Menard
  4. Kyle Larson
  5. Casey Mears
  6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  7. Kurt Busch
  8. Austin Dillon
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Greg Biffle

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will now prepare for the Daytona 500 with qualifying tomorrow at 1 PM ET on FOX, MRN and Sirius XM.

Just prior to the beginning of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Denny Hamlin announced that he had torn his right ACL playing basketball. This was his second ACL tear in the last five years, as the Virginia native underwent off-season surgery to repair his beat up ACL.

Over the course of his career, Hamlin has been notorious for getting injured. Whether it was breaking his back in 2013 after being wrecked by Joey Logano at Auto Club Speedway, a piece of glass getting into his eye, severe neck spasms that had Erik Jones replace him at Bristol in 2015 or his most recent ACL tear, injuries have cost the Joe Gibbs Racing driver some time behind the wheel.

In 2010, Hamlin tore his ACL and had to go to the shortest track in NASCAR, and the track that is arguably the toughest on a driver’s leg, Martinsville, and won the race. The next day, he underwent surgery to fix the tear. After the off-week, the series returned to the Texas Motor Speedway where he also went out and earned the triumph, struggling to get out of his car in Victory Lane.

However, the most recent tear was a lot worse than the first one, according to Hamlin. The pain was similar, but the extent of the surgery and rehabilitation was more complex. This time, the rehabilitation has been tougher, forcing Hamlin to spend more time in physical therapy as he gears up for the 2016 season.

“Well, this one is extensively worse than the first,” Hamlin told Speedway Digest in a teleconference. “The best explanation that I get is that the first one I used the cadaver and I needed to get back in the race car right away, so we did a cadaver and we didn't use any parts of my hamstring or any other parts of my leg simply for recovery purposes.  It would recover faster, and we didn't think we'd have any injuries to that same leg going forward.”

In the last six years technology has changed, resulting in a different type of surgery for Hamlin. He still had to repair the wounded leg, but with driving in 11 races post-ACL tear, including a win at Chicago, he had time to think about when and how he wanted the surgery done. 

This surgery differs from the one in 2010 because it is a little more extensive. It was a slightly more severe surgery, allowing for a better rehab because he actually had time to go to rehabilitation. When he tore the ACL six years ago, there was no time to get out of a racecar and get the right procedure done.  

“But this is kind of a new latest way that they're doing these surgeries,” Hamlin said. “Obviously when players are out in football or basketball, they're out for one year on an ACL, where we don't have that time to recover as race car drivers.  Since this has happened in the off-season, they chose to do it this way, which is a little bit longer recovery process, but it should be stronger in the long run.” 

Since Hamlin waited until after the season in which he recorded two victories, 14 top fives and 20 top-10 finishes, he would look to make a full recovery by the Daytona 500. However, the “Great American Race” is just over three weeks away and he has recovered just over 50 percent.

On Jan. 19 at the NASCAR Media Tour, Hamlin announced that he was about 50 percent in terms of his recovery. In the last week he has regained some stability and range in motion, in which he has struggled with since surgery. He also mentioned that he believes his knee will be a non-factor in two weeks when cars are back on track for Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500 practice.

Hamlin, 35, believed that this procedure was necessary so that after recovery he would be stronger than he was before.

Said Hamlin: “Even if I gain one to two percent more reliability with it, it was worth it to me to go through that extra rehab process to know that it's just going to be a little bit stronger than if I would have done it the other way.”

During the 2010 season after his last ACL surgery, Hamlin went on win eight races and was in position to compete for a championship until the final race, where he had a 15-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson prior to the event as Johnson went on to win his fifth consecutive championship.

Coming off the season in which he had the most wins since the 2012 season, Hamlin will look to conquer his first title, injury free in 2016.