The Latest: HOF driver Elliott introduced as 'Chase's dad'
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) The Latest from the Daytona 500 on Sunday (all times local):
Denny Hamlin has won the Daytona 500, edging Martin Truex Jr. by inches at the finish line. It was the closest finish in the history of the event.
Hamlin gave Toyota its first Daytona 500 victory and owner Joe Gibbs his first win in ''The Great American Race'' since 1993.
Hamlin was running fourth on the final lap before making a strong move to the outside, nudging teammate Matt Kenseth and then powering by Truex.
Hamlin became the first driver since Davey Allison in 1992 to win the Daytona 500 after leading at the halfway point.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out of contention in the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt, seeking his third victory in ''The Great American Race,'' was making a strong run to the front with 30 laps left when he lost control coming out of Turn 4. His No. 88 Chevrolet hit an inside wall and spun into the infield grass. It was similar to how Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott was knocked out of the race.
Earnhardt, who was running sixth at the time of the crash, was transported to the infield care center, evaluated and released.
''Caught me by surprise there,'' Junior said. ''Just lost it.''
Earnhardt entered the day as the heavy favorite. He ran strong in the Sprint Unlimited and won one of the twin qualifying races. And he liked his chances in the car nicknamed ''Amelia.''
Amelia had four wins, a second-place showing and a third-place finish in six starts at restrictor-plate races over the last 13 months.
Denny Hamlin is leading the Daytona 500 with 50 laps to go.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was out front after 150 laps of NASCAR's 200-lap, premier event. He also was the leader at Lap 50 and at the halfway point, Lap 100.
The last driver to lead at the midway point and go on to win the Daytona 500 was Davey Allison in 1992.
Martin Truex Jr. was second, followed by Hamlin's teammate, Kyle Busch. All three are Toyotas. The Japanese automaker has never won ''The Great American Race.''
Hamlin also has owner Joe Gibbs in position for his Daytona 500 victory since 1993.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on the move in the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt led 15 laps early in the 200-lap race, but faded back in the field while dealing with handling issues.
But Earnhardt seemed to have his car nicknamed ''Amelia'' better tuned and making up ground on leader Denny Hamlin. Junior was closing in on the top 10 with about 60 laps to go.
Denny Hamlin is leading the Daytona 500 at the halfway point, putting team owner Joe Gibbs in position for his first win in ''The Great American Race'' in 23 years.
Hamlin was out front after 100 laps, just ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth. Martin Truex Jr. was third. The top three cars are Toyotas.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., widely considered the heavy favorite, was 11th. Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was ninth.
Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
From his home in North Carolina, three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart called into the Fox broadcast and offered his take on how the race was developing.
He said he'd spoken to his team earlier in the day. ''I'm the guy you call for technical support,'' he said.
Stewart broke a vertebra while driving an all-terrain vehicle the week before the season opened. Stewart is retiring at the end of the season, but has vowed to be back in his car this year.
He said his next doctor appointment is March 9.
Brian Vickers, the replacement for injured driver Tony Stewart, brought out the caution when he spun trying not to run into the back of Joey Logano.
Vickers spun up the track and as cars darted to avoid him. Carl Edwards was hit by Trevor Bayne. The contact sent Edwards into the wall and then to pit road for heavy repairs.
Vickers' car appeared undamaged.
Vickers was picked to drive for Stewart at Daytona after Stewart's injury. Vickers missed all but two races last year while he was getting treatment for recurring blood clots.
Denny Hamlin is leading the Daytona 500 after 50 laps.
Hamlin took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the first series of pit stops.
Hamlin was out front and had several Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in tow, with Kyle Busch running second and Matt Kenseth fourth. Another Toyota, driven by Mart Truex Jr., was third.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott is out of the Daytona 500.
Just 19 laps into ''The Great American Race,'' the Sprint Cup rookie lost control of his No. 24 Chevrolet coming out of Turn 4 and slid into the grass infield. The front end of his car lifted off the ground, and the rough ride caused enough damage that his car had to be towed to the garage.
Elliott was transported to the infield care center, evaluated and released.
''You hate to end the race before it's even started,'' Elliott said. ''It's disappointing.''
He later returned to the track 40 laps down.
Carl Edwards and Regan Smith also were involved in the wreck, the first of the day.
''THIS IS DAYTONA!!!!''
Gerard Butler screamed the command to more than 100,000 fans, a tweaked version of the actor's famous ''This is Sparta'' line from the 2006 hit movie ''300.''
He gave the command for drivers to start their engines, and the Daytona 500 got under way a few minutes later.
Rookie Chase Elliott led the 40-car field to the green flag. Joey Logano is the defending champion.
NASCAR executive Mike Helton brought some humor to the pre-race driver meeting, a traditionally staid ceremonial recognition of dignitaries that concludes with drivers receiving one final briefing before the race.
Helton one-by-one introduced all the Hall of Fame drivers in attendance, with 2015 inductee Bill Elliott last. Elliott is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and former NASCAR champion, and his 20-year-old son will make his Daytona 500 debut Sunday.
Chase Elliott replaced Jeff Gordon in the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet and put it on the pole for the 500, so Helton simply introduced his Hall of Fame father as ''Chase's dad.''
He also noted that Hall of Famer Glenn Wood is attending his 70th consecutive Daytona 500, but wryly noted that it's only the 58th running of ''The Great American Race.''
''They did race down there on the beach, though,'' Helton smiled.
- Jenna Fryer
The Daytona 500 is a star-studded attraction that draws all sorts of celebrities.
Here are some of the ones on hand:
Model Charlotte McKinney, rapper Wyclef Jean, TV personality Brody Jenner, actor Jason Biggs, actor Justin Bartha, actor Larenz Tate, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, and Washington Nationals outfielder and reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper.
- Mark Long
Actor Gerard Butler is keeping his command to start engines before the Daytona 500 under wraps.
''My command? That's a surprise,'' he said. ''I have something up my sleeve, though, that I think you might like - or not. We'll see what happens when I get out there. I like living in the moment.''
One reporter impressed Butler with a tweaked version of the actor's famous ''This is Sparta'' line from the 2006 hit movie ''300.'' The reporter asked Butler if he considered opening with ''This is Daytona!''
''Now, I'm going to say, `No, no, don't be silly,''' Butler said. ''And then I'm going to go to the organizers and say, (can I use) `This is Daytona?'''
- Mark Long
Ken Griffey Jr. says steroid-tainted slugger Barry Bonds deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Griffey is serving as honorary starter for the Daytona 500, where he will waive the green flag to start the 58th running of ''The Great American Race.'' Before he took his spot in the starter's stand Sunday, he met with the media and one of the first questions was about Bonds belonging in Cooperstown.
''Yeah,'' Griffey said after a long pause. ''I think that overall, when you look what people have done, yeah. It's not my vote, so I can't vote for him. But if you look at what he's done, those numbers speak for themselves.''
The polarizing home run king, Bonds is returning to the major leagues as hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. Bonds is 0 for 4 in annual Hall of Fame balloting. He received 44 percent of the vote in January, a career high but far short of the 75 percent needed for induction.
Like Bonds, former home run king and admitted steroid user Mark McGwire also is back in baseball. He is the bench coach for the San Diego Padres.
Griffey declined to speculate whether being back in the game would help either one when it comes time to vote every year.
''I have no idea,'' Griffey said. ''My thing is I don't vote, so my opinion doesn't matter. It's up to the guys who do it for a living to decide what they want to do. I was honored by them voting for me. But it's up to these guys to determine if they get in or not. It's not up to me.''
As for the 500, Junior is going with Junior. Griffey and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have signed and exchanged items for charity over the years. Griffey even has a signed hood from one of Earnhardt's cars on display in his Orlando home.
''I've always been an Earnhardt family fan,'' Griffey said. ''I wore black batting gloves on Sunday when I played for the Reds.''
- Mark Long
John Cena is driving the pace car for the Daytona 500.
But is the WWE star on the Road to WrestleMania?
Cena raised his right arm in an exaggerated motion roughly six weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery. The 15-time WWE champion refused to officially rule himself out of a WrestleMania match April 3 in Dallas.
''It would personally be unfortunate for me to miss WrestleMania,'' Cena said. ''But if I can't perform, it would be unfortunate to the people watching WrestleMania to see me try to suffer through something that isn't worthy of the event.''
Cena, whose catchphrase is ''You Can't See Me,'' joked that the drivers will, in fact, be able to see him in the Toyota Camry.
''I've installed a brilliant series of lights on top,'' Cena said. ''They will see me today, my friend. They will see me.''
Cena picked his friend Carl Edwards to win.
Cena will host the upcoming reality competition series ''American Grit'' starting April 14.
- Dan Gelston
It's Daytona Day!
The 58th running of the Daytona 500 is Sunday, and although rookie Chase Elliott is on the pole, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is considered the man to beat in ''The Great American Race.''
Earnhardt and his car nicknamed ''Amelia'' have been nearly unstoppable at recent restrictor-plate races. Junior has four wins in six races with Amelia over the last 13 months.
Earnhardt says his team has been talked up quite a bit this week but he hopes people don't underestimate the competition. He says a lot of cars and drivers are capable of winning.
Driver Denny Hamlin believes only a handful of teams are capable of winning Sunday. Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are among Earnhardt's toughest competition. Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano also are expected to contend.
- Mark Long