The 58th Daytona 500 most definitely belonged to Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. The competition from Chevrolet showed some promise up front early, but Toyota proved to be the most dominant. Most of this section is most definitely going to JGR, as three of them finished in the top five. Chevrolet may have put four in the top 10, but it was indeed Toyota’s destiny to rule the World Center of Racing. Ford was only able to put one driver in the top 10 and that was now former Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano. The hottest drivers at the moment are:
- Denny Hamlin: After winning his third career Sprint Unlimited with new crew chief Mike Wheeler, Hamlin was not going to be denied his first Daytona 500 win. Hamlin led a career best 95 laps, and became the sixth driver to win both races in the same year. All it took was a push from Kevin Harvick on the final lap to move Matt Kenseth over and beat Martin Truex Jr to the finish line. Hamlin’s first Daytona 500 win is truly the best start of his career.
- Martin Truex Jr: Say what you want on whether or not losing the Daytona 500 by .011 seconds was a heartbreak, but Truex saw it as a positively best finish for him. He andFurniture Row Racing have to thank JGR for forming an alliance with and switching to Toyota, which absolutely kept Truex in the top five throughout the whole race. Truex was nearly flawless and held his own trying to hold off Hamlin at the very end. The number 78 is too most likely at the best start in his NASCAR career sitting second in points.
- Kyle Busch: The defending Sprint Cup champion looked for redemption as he missed last year’s Daytona 500 due to his accident during the Xfinity Series last year. His new found fame as the champion has shown more poise to try to push his way to his first Daytona 500 win. Leading the third most laps with 19, Kyle stayed in the top five hanging along with Truex. His third place finish in the Great American Race is the best ever as he is off to a hot start defending his title.
- Matt Kenseth: No doubt the two-time defending champion was well on his way to winning his third Daytona 500 and his first with JGR, but everything came down to that last minute push between Hamlin and Harvick. Even with the clip in the final lap, it was all in the heat of the moment and Kenseth was understandable and positive about the whole situation. Losing his primary car in Duel Two and using his backup to race from the back proved that Kenseth is one of the elite despite a 14th place finish.
- Joey Logano: The 2015 champion was unable to lead a lap due to Toyota’s extreme performance, but managed to get as high as second and finish sixth. Logano was the loneTeam Penske and Ford driver that was able to hang with JGR throughout. The near repeat performance was enough to show that Logano is still showing a veteran status and being able to compete with the best even with a two car team. How Logano will be able to maintain this momentum without help from Brad Keselowski remains to be seen.
While Hendrick did show some promise early, all except Kasey Kahne ran into bad luck. Dale Earnhardt Jr and Chase Elliott lost to Calamity Corner as quoted by Mike Joy. Jimmie Johnson’s real miscue was a pit road penalty late in the race. All three led for a combined 33 laps, but now they must prove they have more than speed to stay out of trouble. How Hendrick will perform against JGR will now have to wait tillAtlanta. Johnson may have a hard time defending his last win at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Bryan Law