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Truex oh so close to Daytona 500 victory

DAYTONA BEACH — Martin Truex knows Sunday's finish will follow him for the rest of his career.

He immediately compared it to what happened to Mark Martin in 2007, when Kevin Harvick edged Martin by 0.02 seconds in an image that's included among the historic photos in the Turn 1 tunnel into Daytona International Speedway.

"I'm going to have to see that same thing for a long time," Truex said.

But if Sunday's 0.01-second defeat to Denny Hamlin shows anything, it's a sign that Truex, 35, could be in for plenty of other strong finishes.

Truex was one of the final four competitors in last year's Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. His No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team switched to Toyota in the offseason and became partners with Joe Gibbs Racing, which paid off Sunday.

"We really controlled the whole entire race," Truex said. "It was great for me to show those guys they can trust me to be part of their team."

If you include Truex with JGR's four-car team, Gibbs' cars led 156 of the race's 200 laps and 117 of the final 123. That doesn't include Carl Edwards, whose No. 19 Toyota was damaged in two different wrecks but recovered to finish fifth.

Hamlin's victory was the first for JGR in the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett in 1993, and it was the first for Toyota.

Short Chase: Chase Elliott couldn't follow up Saturday night's win in the Xfinity series in his first Daytona 500. The touted 20-year-old pole-sitter lost control of his No. 24 Chevrolet on Lap 19 and couldn't recover.

"You hate to end the race before you even got started," Elliott said. "Just disappointed for everybody."

Elliott led the first three laps but dropped back toward the bottom of the top 10. He was in the middle of a three-wide battle when he got loose and spun near the frontstretch. He didn't hit any walls but damaged the car's front end in the grass infield and lost 40 laps as his Hendrick Motorsports team made repairs.

Two teammates that have won the 500 twice each didn't have much better luck. Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun late and finished 36th after leading 15 laps; Jimmie Johnson led 18 laps but wound up 16th.

Elliott, the 2014 Nationwide series champion, is regarded as one of the sport's top young stars. In Sunday's prerace drivers meeting, NASCAR jokingly introduced his father — Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott — as "Chase's dad."

The afternoon wasn't kind to those replacing racing stars. Elliott, who took the No. 24 car after Jeff Gordon's retirement, finished 37th. Brian Vickers, who drove in place of the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet, spun out on Lap 47 and finished 26th.

Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, said during Fox's telecast that he hopes to come to a Cup race in the next few weeks but won't have an X-ray on his injured back until March 9. Stewart has announced that this will be his final full-time season.

Daytona Rising: Sunday marked the full debut of the new-look Daytona International Speedway. The historic track underwent a $400 million renovation, which included new amenities, eliminating the backstretch and replacing all 101,000 seats. The speedway celebrated the opening with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony; the pace car drove through an honorary piece of tape.

Tampa ties: Tampa native and Hillsborough High alumnus Aric Almirola ran in the top 10 for much of the afternoon after starting 34th. He was penalized for an uncontrolled tire in the pits with 80 laps left. Almirola dropped back outside the top 20 but rebounded well. His No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford finished 12th.

Nuts and bolts: Bucs WR Vincent Jackson and area boxers Keith Thurman (Clearwater) and Winky Wright (St. Petersburg) were among the celebrities introduced to drivers before the race. … Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr. was the honorary starter.

Truex oh so close to Daytona 500 victory 02/21/16 [Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2016 11:39pm]
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