For many years, I have said that this race is a spectacle all its own. The NASCAR season doesn’t really start until the second week of the year, mainly because this race has so much happening within it, the season is all wrapped up in one event. Celebrities from every form come to this race over the years. There’s been football and baseball stars, current and retired, movie stars, and even presidents that have elected to come to enjoy what is the Great American Race.
This event is 200 laps, 500 miles, with one driver achieving immortality for the next 365 days. The only thing the team loses in victory is the actual car, because it goes on display the entire year exactly as it looked when it was in victory lane.
Personally, I have not been to this event. I have the desire to, and eventually, I will make it happen. But, any fan can say that Daytona is one place that is different, and it is especially different now that their $400 million project known as “Daytona Rising” has been completed, making it a true stadium feel, not just a race track.
But in all this, there is still a race that is run, with decisions from crew chiefs, drivers and spotters that are made in a split second.
This year’s race showed off the most skill from the entire field when it mattered the most, in that the aggression was strong enough to have great racing, but not create chaos that is often seen with this pack-style racing. When that last lap happened, there were no teammates at that point. This is the Daytona 500, the biggest paying race, with the biggest reputation, and the most remembered victory of any driver’s career. There was a move to the lead, where a teammate decided a victory was more important than assisting.
At the same time, when that pass happened, the field got slowed up slightly, but not one driver made the mistake of getting too aggressive, and spin one out. That would have ruined what was happening, and instead of talking about a finish, the talk would be about a wreck.
The finish of this race was exactly what the sport deserved to start the new season. A margin of victory of 0.01 seconds, the closest ever in this race, was what the fans deserved. A first-time winner of this race is what the sport earned, and without a doubt Denny Hamlin earned this victory in the hardest way possible. He had to pass his teammate in order to get the win, and after having the most dominant car all race long, he finally saw the win.
Hamlin becomes the first driver since Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat in 2000 to win both the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 in the same season. The win means he’s the first driver qualified for the 2016 Chase.
This is the start of a new season, and it could not have started in a better fashion. One race down…only 35 more to go.
RESULTS: 1-Hamlin 2-Truex Jr. 3-Kyle Busch 4-Harvick 5-Edwards 6-Logano 7-Larson 8-Smith 9-Dillon 10-Kurt Busch
NOTABLES: 13-Kahne 14-Kenseth 16-Johnson 20-Keselowski 36-Earnhardt Jr. 37-Elliott
CAUTIONS: 6 for 31 laps. Lap 20-25 (#24, 7, 19 Accident-Frontstretch); 57-61 (#14, 19, 6 Accident-Frontstretch); 93-99 (#34, 93 Accident-Turn 2); 120-123 (Debris Turn 3 ); 171-175 (#88 Accident-Frontstretch); 185-188 (#10, 27, 16 Accident-Backstretch).
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 15 drivers. C. Elliott 1-3; D. Earnhardt Jr. 4-17; Kyle Busch 18-21; D. Earnhardt Jr. 22; R. Newman 23; D. Hamlin 24-57; M. Truex Jr. 58; B. Labonte 59; J. Johnson 60-77; Kyle Busch 78-92; D. Ragan 93; M. Waltrip 94; D. Hamlin 95-119; M. Truex Jr. 120; D. Hamlin 121-155; A. Dillon 156; B. Keselowski 157; M. Annett 158; B. Scott 159; M. Kenseth 160-199; D. Hamlin 200.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 10 Mins, 25 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 157.549 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.01 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS: 1. Hamlin, 45 points*; 2. Truex Jr, -5; 3. Kyle Busch, -6; 4. Harvick, -8; 5. Edwards, -9; 6. Logano, -10; 7. Larson, -11; 8. Smith, -12; 9. Dillon, -12; 10. Kurt Busch, -14.