After 2016 saw Denny Hamlin edge out Martin Truex Jr. by .010 seconds in the closest finish in DAYTONA 500 history, it got us thinking about the other epic DAYTONA 500 finishes. Below we count down the top five closest finishes in the 58 year history of “The Great American Race” since computer scoring was introduced in 1993.
The 52nd running of the iconic race saw the fifth closest finish in the last on the original surface before a massive track repave would begin later in the year. The old pavement gave a finish to remember as a margin of .119 seconds separated race champion Jamie McMurray from second-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Starting in his eighth career DAYTONA 500, 33-year-old McMurray was back with Chip Ganassi Racing, the team he started his career with, after a four-year hiatus at Roush Fenway Racing.
McMurray and Greg Biffle ran 1-2 as the white flag was shown, however Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on the move. By Turn 4 Earnhardt Jr. had caught the leader but was unable to navigate around him as McMurray fiercely guarded the inside line.
Ultimately, McMurray outlasted a hard-charging Earnhardt to claim the victory and take the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet to Gatorade Victory Lane after an emotional celebration in the trioval grass.
McMurray’s win marked the first-ever DAYTONA 500 victory for the legendary Chip Ganassi and remains his only DAYTONA 500 victory to date.
The first DAYTONA 500 to be run on the newly-repaved track surface didn’t disappoint as competitiors ran the brand-new pavement to a margin of victory of just .118 seconds.
Driving the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford, Trevor Bayne, who turned 20 years old the day prior to the race, became the youngest driver to win the DAYTONA 500, returning the legendary race team to Gatorade Victory Lane for the first time in 10 years.
On the final lap, Carl Edwards and David Gilliland mounted a charge on the inside lane with Carl Edwards closing in on Bayne coming out of Turn 4. However, the brand-new member of the 20-year-old club dropped to the bottom lane to block the hard-charging Edwards and held on to win the first race of his Sprint Cup Series career.
With the win, the No. 21 car became the winningest number in DAYTONA 500 history with five. Joining Bayne are Tiny Lund (1963), Cale Yarborough (1968), A.J. Foyt (1972) and David Pearson (1976).
Quite appropriately, the 50th running of ”The Great American Race” – the Golden Anniversary – saw a truly golden finish with Ryan Newman and the No. 12 Dodge team beating Kurt Busch across the line by just 0.092 seconds.
Pre-race ceremonies were star-studded as the 24 living DAYTONA 500 champions served as Grand Marshals, seven-time DAYTONA 500 champion Richard Petty was the Honorary Starter, 1960 DAYTONA 500 champion Junior Johnson was the Honorary Pace Car driver, country music star Trisha Yearwood sang the National Anthem and the USAF Thunderbirds provided the flyover.
In Turn 2 of the last lap, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch pulled to the inside as the Team Penske cars of Newman and Kurt Busch set up a run on the outside line. Kurt Busch pushed Newman to victory giving Penske Racing a 1-2 finish with Stewart finishing third. The win gave owner Roger Penske his first DAYTONA 500 victory.
The second-closest DAYTONA 500 came the year before with Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Chevrolet team giving owner Richard Childress his second DAYTONA 500 victory – the very first since Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 triumph.
On the final green-white-checkered restart, Harvick started all the way back in seventh. At the beginning of the final lap, fan-favorite Mark Martin, seeking his first DAYTONA 500 victory in his 23rd start, led the field.
As the cars hit the backstretch, Harvick made his move, working his way to the front of the pack with the drafting help of Matt Kenseth. Nose-for-nose out of Turn 3, Harvick nipped Martin at the start/finish line by merely .020 seconds, the closest DAYTONA 500 finish since the famous photo finish in the inaugural race.
Denny Hamlin earned his first DAYTONA 500 victory in the closest finish in the race's storied 58-year history, pushing his No. 11 FedEx Toyota ahead of Martin Truex Jr.'s Furniture Row Toyota at the finish line by one-hundredth of a second (0.010) – the closest finish since NASCAR introduced electronic timing and scoring in 1993.
Hamlin pulled out of line with a lap to go and chased down teammate Matt Kenseth. He staved off Kenseth's block, and wedged between Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., stayed on the gas for a door-to-door dash to the checkered flag that ended in a photo finish with Truex.
It was the first DAYTONA 500 win for owner Joe Gibbs since Dale Jarrett’s victory in 1993. It also marked Toyota’s first DAYTONA 500 win in its 10th year in the Cup Series.
What are your favorite DAYTONA 500 finishes? Let us know by leaving us a comment below!
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