Daytona 500 – Post Race Report
Late-Race Draft Shuffles Hamlin Back to 14th-Place Finish in Daytona 500
Denny Hamlin led three times for 33 laps and was third for the final restart in Sunday's 55th running of the Daytona 500, but the inside line never gained momentum in the final five-lap shootout to the checkered flag and the #11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry crossed the finish line in 14th-place. Hamlin restarted on the inside line behind second place Brad Keselowski following the 200-lap race's final caution period, but the preferred outside groove proved too much to overcome, as Jimmie Johnson held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the victory. Mark Martin finished third, followed by Keselowski and Ryan Newman. "The inside groove never really had a chance unless everyone was lined up together," said Hamlin, following the race. "You never saw anyone gain momentum by themselves on the bottom or the middle, and we just stalled out once it was broken up. We should've finished better with how good this FedEx Camry ran in the race, but that's a product of restrictor-plate racing." The FedEx team started 35th on the famed 2.5-mile high-banked Florida oval, and Hamlin was content to bide his time in the early going near the back of the big draft pack. He gained a few spots after the first two-tire pit stop, and picked off a few more as he narrowly missed a multi-car incident that took out many contenders on Lap 34. Hamlin then linked up with Joe Gibbs teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, as well as fellow Toyota drivers in the lead pack, and eventually had a six-car breakaway at the front. Hamlin took the lead for the first time on Lap 77 after quick work by the FedEx crew got him out in front of Kenseth, who had led 34 of the previous 40 laps. The #11 machine ran second through the race's midpoint as Hamlin positioned himself for the finish. Unfortunately, both Kenseth and Busch suffered mechanical problems with about 50 laps to go, leaving Hamlin to fight for himself down the stretch. Three caution periods bunched the field in the final quarter of the race, but each time, the FedEx Toyota was forced to start on the inside line, which was never able to sustain momentum or allow Hamlin to mount a charge for the win. NASCAR returns to action on Sunday, March 3, at Phoenix International Raceway, where Hamlin is the defending race winner.