Joey Logano survived a green-white-checkered finish and suffocating pressure from his rivals on Sunday to win one of the most intense and competitive Daytona 500s in recent memory.
Logano passed leader Jimmie Johnson with nine laps to go and thanks to a last-lap caution flag held on for the victory over Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.
It was Logano’s first restrictor-plate race victory and only the second Daytona 500 victory for car owner Roger Penske. It also gave Ford Motor Co. a sweep of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races at Daytona International Speedway.
"I can’t believe it. It was absolutely amazing," said Logano, who earned his ninth career victory in his 220th start. "This is awesome. The Daytona 500? Oh, my God. Are you kidding? I was so nervous the whole race."
During the green-white-checkered finish, the Chevrolets of Harvick and Earnhardt appeared to be poised to team up and draft past Logano, but a huge crash behind them brought out a caution and froze the field. That gave Logano the victory in the first and biggest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
"I thought we were in good shape with the 88 (Earnhardt) behind us," said Harvick, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
"I should have won the race," said Earnhardt. "… I thought I had a good opportunity there. It just didn’t work out."
In his final Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon led a race-high 87 laps, but got caught in the last-lap crash and unofficially finished 33rd.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Gordon and Johnson started on the front row, with Earnhardt third in another one of the team’s Chevrolets.
On Lap 41, Tony Stewart drifted up toward the outside wall in the tri-oval and when he did, Matt Kenseth slowed up and got hit from behind by Michael Waltrip, bringing out a caution flag. Kenseth and Stewart were the first of the pre-race favorites to encounter problems, with Stewart forced to the garage to replace a front spindle. "That was 100 percent my fault," Stewart said on his team radio.
The Hendrick drivers led the first 45 laps with Logano taking his first lead after the caution for Stewart’s incident. But Gordon was back out front by Lap 52 and Earnhardt was soon into second behind him.
At the halfway point, it was a Gordon-Kasey Kahne-Earnhardt Hendrick 1-2-3, with Gordon having led 77 of the first 100 laps.
But after a debris caution, Gordon began to fall back after the lap-110 mark, as Earnhardt went to the front on Lap 114.
VIDEO: Austin Dillon wrecks Jeff Gordon on final lap of Daytona 500
Logano took the lead on Lap 146, and with 50 laps to go led the Hendrick Chevrolets of Earnhardt, Johnson and Gordon.
Then Johnson took the lead just before Brad Keselowski’s engine let go on Lap 160. Fluid dropped from his engine caused Jamie McMurray to hit the wall and Ryan Newman to run into the back of him. Under the ensuing caution, about half the field came down pit road to make sure that had enough fuel to finish.
Johnson and 11 others did not pit, with the six-time champ leading. Gordon was the first car to stop and came out 13th.
On the restart, Earnhardt got hung in the middle lane and fell from second to 14th.
With 12 laps to go, the field went three-wide for the lead, with Johnson, Logano and Hamlin dicing fiercely for the top spot.
Logano went to the front with nine laps to go, but the field quickly caught him.
He stayed there until there was a caution with three laps to go when Justin Allgaier’s engine failed and he spun out. That brought out a red flag an set up a green-white-checkered finish with Logano leading Hamlin, Johnson, Bowyer and Truex.
Logano took the white flag and then the field piled up behind him. However, the Team Penske driver still wasn’t sure he was going to win.
“I saw them crash in the mirror but I had a distance to go and I thought that was good because it was still going to be harder for them to catch up without as many cars in the pack,” said Logano. “Then the caution came out anyway. That feeling of winning the Daytona 500, I can’t explain how cool this is. I said in an interview that this was our worst race track last year and we worked really hard to figure out how we could get better at it and all the hard work got us the win today.”
VIDEO: Joey Logano says he’s going to party really hard after winning Daytona 500