Hamlin makes history with Daytona 500 win

Hamlin makes history with Daytona 500 win

DAYTONA BEACH, FL (WMBF) - Denny Hamlin didn't take long to put winning the Daytona 500 into perspective.

"It's the pinnacle of my career," he said to open a press conference about an hour after he crossed the finish line Sunday.

Hamlin led 95 laps, but he wasn't in the lead with just half of a lap to go. It was his teammate Matt Kenseth out front. But Kenseth slid up the track on the Daytona International Speedway backstretch, and Hamlin saw his opening. He got some help from behind from Kevin Harvick.

"He hit me so hard it shot me three cars forward," Hamlin said when trying to describe how the last lap unfolded. "I had to do something with that run."

Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx car needed every inch to get the win, beating Martin Truex Jr. to the line by 0.01 seconds. It's the closest margin of victory in Daytona 500 history.

It was so close, Hamlin didn't know he had actually won.

"I knew it was close," he said. "I saw the pylon change and blink at the last second for the 11. I heard on the radio people were all crazy excited. I assumed we won when that happened."

The tight finish isn't the only noteworthy point. It's the first time a Toyota has won the race. It's the first time Joe Gibbs has won the Daytona 500 as an owner since 1993.

Gibbs wasn't sure he was going to get that win though.

"When I saw [Hamlin] go inside of the 20 [Kenseth], I was thinking the worst," Gibbs said after the race. "I thought it was going to take both of our cars, there's going to be a big one here."

There wasn't. The big one, was the size of the win for Joe Gibbs Racing. Not only did Hamlin win, Kyle Busch finished third and Carl Edwards finished fifth. Gibbs said as good as those results were, he still felt for his fourth driver.

"We're a team," he said. "It's four cars, four drivers, four crew chiefs. We're all together. But, man, you know what a heartbreak that is."

Matt Kenseth ended up finishing 14th. He led nearly all of the final 40 laps, but couldn't hang on for an extra mile.

With the first race of the 2016 NASCAR season in the books, Denny Hamlin is the driver able to breathe a sigh of relief. The win gets him a spot in the Chase field.

"The championship is the next on the list for us," Hamlin said. "I just feel like I've knocked on the door and knocked on the door. Eventually you got to just kick the thing in."