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HAMLIN DELIVERS IN CLOSEST-EVER DAYTONA 500

Joe Gibbs Racing could not have scripted a better way to celebrate the organization’s 25th anniversary after Denny Hamlin captured the team’s second Daytona 500 victory – and first in 23 years – in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Hamlin’s thrilling victory over Martin Truex Jr. by 0.011 of a second – the closest finish in the 58-year history of the event – left Joe Gibbs Racing right where it ended the 2015 season on top of the Sprint Cup Series universe. For Hamlin, who earned his 27th career Sprint Cup Series victory but first in the Daytona 500, the thrill of winning NASCAR’s crown jewel has hopefully started to cement his racing legacy. 

“I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as my career is concerned, but I’m in the darkness,” Hamlin said. “I can’t see back and I can’t see forward. It’s kind of like I’m right in the middle. I want to get some of these accomplishments done, because ultimately you’re defined by your big moments. That’s why this one is so big for us, and me in particular, is that you don’t like to be the guy that wins races but not the big ones, and you don’t win a championship.”

The last-lap pass Hamlin made to win the Daytona 500 will forever be etched in the memorable finishes in NASCAR history. A pass of his teammate Matt Kenseth on the final lap provides the quintessential thrill of winning and agony of defeat.

Even for Hamlin, the way the final lap unfolded left him in awe. Kenseth owned the lead and Hamlin got a strong push on the outside lane from Kevin Harvick for a tremendous run on the leader. Kenseth went high to block and Hamlin dove below and into the lead as Kenseth nearly lost control of his car and staggered to a 14th-place finish. After that, he had Truex Jr. ahead of him and the two banged side by side to the finish line before Hamlin gained the slight advantage for the victory.

“It’s, like, storybook,” Hamlin said. “You make a pass on the last corner of the last lap of the Daytona 500. That’s what makes it so cool.”

Hamlin’s victory culminated a dominant day for Joe Gibbs Racing’s four-car organization. Late in the race, all four JGR drivers – Hamlin, Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards – ran inside the top five with an opportunity for the win. Kenseth appeared to be the favorite to visit Victory Lane after leading 40 laps, including holding the lead heading to the checkered flag before Hamlin’s Turn 4 pass.

Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch combined to lead 154 of the 200 laps in the 500-mile race. For Gibbs and the entire organization, an emphasis was placed on snapping the organization’s 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 that dated to Dale Jarrett’s triumph.

“I think what happened is we came down here and our cars were all fast,” Gibbs said. “I think we had good cars. Every time I talked to the drivers, they said, ‘Hey, look, I think we’re pretty good. Obviously there were a lot of other good cars out there.”

With a Daytona 500 victory added to his resume, Hamlin is motivated to ensure this isn’t the only career-defining moment that is made in 2016 for him and Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Ultimately, you’re defined by the big moments,” Hamlin said. “The championship is next for us.

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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