DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Denny Hamlin had the car to beat in Sunday’s Daytona 500. He led a race-high 98 of 200 laps and well on his way to becoming the first three-peat champion in the races 63 year history.
Then the final pit sequence happened.
The Toyota’s hit pit lane last among the three manufacturers. It cost them.
The Fords were lined up and the Toyota’s couldn’t get formed quick enough to stay ahead.
Hamlin, had too big of a lead over teammate Kyle Busch and neither were close enough to use each other as drafting help. The Ford train was coming and blew right by them with 25 laps-to-go.
“We were too far out front (on the final pit stop),” Hamlin said. “We got on-and-off pit road too good. I was just too far ahead of the pack.”
The pack would go single file and run at the top of the banking all the way around until a few to go. There wasn’t enough energy built up for the Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s to make any ground. They knew it would take a lot for them to break up the five Ford’s up front.
If you go to the bottom line, you need enough cars to build some energy. There just wasn’t enough.
“I figured the Chevys would make a move from two or three to go, because they are not going to win on the last lap from fifth or sixth,” Hamlin continued. “I was able to gain some positions. I think I was 12th and everybody was running single file, so it handcuffed me. I couldn’t really do anything. I hoped once I got to eighth as long as they make a move with two to go, I’m in the energy – in the area where I can make something happen. Dominant car, just a dominant car. Just one of those things that execute too good.”