Denny Hamlin entered the final lap of Sunday's Daytona 500 trailing but made a gutsy late move and edged out Martin Truex Jr. in a photo finish to claim the checkered flag.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted how epic Hamlin's gallant charge was, as he took a bump from prior leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth en route to his surge to first:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Denny Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. to win Daytona 500 Margin of victory 0.010 sec, closest in Daytona 500 history https://t.co/9MLXZjfmQL2/21/2016, 10:08:45 PM
There was plenty of reaction to Hamlin's triumph at the Great American Race, not the least of which was his own jubilation in Victory Lane, courtesy of NASCAR's official Twitter account:
BROUGHT. IT. HOME. #DAYTONA500 https://t.co/O9CkrUd6zW2/21/2016, 9:57:26 PM
NASCAR also provided footage of Hamlin hoisting the trophy:
Raise her up! 🏆 #DAYTONA500 https://t.co/BJqUSmmJOf2/21/2016, 10:05:48 PM
And yes, the champagne was flowing as well:
🍾🍾🍾. #DAYTONA500 https://t.co/WoY6vdDUA42/21/2016, 10:32:34 PM
In addition to soaking up the moment with his team and family, Hamlin provided further entertainment with some crafty maneuvers:
Victory Donut! #DAYTONA500 https://t.co/2JASluqxeU2/21/2016, 9:59:38 PM
Based on the fashion in which he secured his maiden Daytona 500 victory, no one could blame him for being so excited and keen to celebrate right.
Much of the post-race chatter deservedly focused on the thrilling conclusion.
Ryan McGee of ESPN The Magazine actually thought Truex had held off Hamlin until the official result was confirmed moments after the two crossed the finish line:
Ryan McGee @ESPNMcGee
Wow. Closest #DAYTONA500 finish ever. Reminiscent of inaugural 1959 finish. So close I thought Truex had it. He didn't. Hamlin did.2/21/2016, 9:45:52 PM
FoxSports.com's Tom Jensen recalled the finish McGee mentioned and included snapshots of memorable past Daytona 500 endings:
tom jensen @tomjensen100
Over the years, there have been some thrilling finishes at @DISupdates https://t.co/4VBAlrUdg92/21/2016, 10:28:23 PM
Even the most casual NASCAR fans or those less interested in racing could appreciate how magnificent the end of Sunday's race was. Sports Illustrated's Andrew Perloff communicated that sentiment well:
Andrew Perloff @andrewperloff
I'm certainly not a NASCAR expert, but that was amazing. Great to see friend of @dpshow Denny Hamlin win.2/21/2016, 9:45:51 PM
Kenseth may be somewhat forgotten even though he was so close to getting the job done. Per Popular Speed's Kelly Crandall, he didn't harbor any hard feelings toward Hamlin despite sliding to 14th in the end:
Kelly Crandall @KellyCrandall
On pit road Kenseth said Hamlin did a "masterful job" on the last lap. Said it's absolutely how you should race for the #DAYTONA5002/21/2016, 9:51:45 PM
Truex did well to contain his emotions but acknowledged he'd inevitably and perpetually be associated with Sunday's close call.
"I'm going to have to watch that on a highlight reel for the rest of my life," he said, per Yahoo Sports' Jay Busbee. "You'd rather get beaten by a few feet than four inches, yeah."
But it wasn't going to be as fun of a Sunday for everyone who didn't walk away with the top prize. Hamlin happened to combine an extraordinary opportunity and magnificent, bold driving at the perfect moment to come out on top.
Sunday funday. #DAYTONA500 https://t.co/KSw3o4xl5j2/21/2016, 10:22:57 PM
Making the win even sweeter was the fact Hamlin overcame a torn ACL suffered this past November and remained on course to race despite still recovering from the knee ligament operation. He was 11th on the starting grid and had to methodically work his way to the front amid 200 laps.
After fourth-place finishes in 2012 and 2014 and a runner-up showing in 2013, Hamlin has lifted the burden of expectations for a Daytona 500 breakthrough. He also built on the momentum from last week's Sprint Unlimited win.
Sunday's triumph is a big boost for Hamlin at the dawn of the 2016 campaign, especially since a poor start to the year may have caused him to re-evaluate his recovery from injury.
He's already in the Chase and is currently in prime early position to contend for the Sprint Cup championship, provided he can stay healthy. Hamlin hasn't achieved that in his career to date, but he hadn't won the Daytona 500 until now, either.
Next up on the NASCAR schedule is the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hamlin's form from Daytona may well carry over, considering he won at Atlanta in 2012.
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