5 biggest surprises from the memorable Daytona 500

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car comes to a stop in the tri-oval grass after a spin coming out of Turn 4 results in hard contact with the inside wall with 30 laps to go in the Daytona 500.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The 2016 Daytona 500 is in the books, with Denny Hamlin beating Martin Truex Jr. to the line by 0.010 seconds, the closest finish in the event’s history.

It was truly a memorable Speedweeks, with perfect weather and some great racing.

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Here are the five biggest surprises from the Daytona 500:

5. Underdogs — In his first drive for Tommy Baldwin, veteran Regan Smith drove an outstanding race, finishing eighth. That was best of any of the small teams. Also worth a mention is Michael McDowell, who had to race his way into the 500 and finished 15th, which was a strong result for he and the Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing team. 

4. Ford finishes — During the lead up to the 500, many of the Fords in the field had shown good speed, especially last year’s race winner, Joey Logano. But not a single Ford finished in the top five, with Logano best of the Blue Oval Boys in sixth. Next was Aric Almirola in 12th, the only other Ford driver to finish in the top 15. 

3. No "Big One" — For the first time in years, there was no big multi-car crash in the 500, which is a very good thing indeed. That said, the hard two-car crash that took out Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher was eerily reminiscent of 2001. NASCAR really has come a long way on safety and it was good to see both drivers walk away. Come to think of it, there was no rain, no exploding jet dryers or any real calamity in all of Speedweeks aside from Christopher Bell’s crash in the Camping World Truck Series race. 

Hamlin's Daytona 500 triumph puts cap on dominant Speedweeks for Toyota

2. Hendrick’s struggles — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the pre-race favorite and led 17 laps early on. But once he fell back, he could never move up and eventually crashed, as his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, had earlier. The highest-finishing Hendrick driver was Kasey Kahne in 13th. It was not the kind of day the team was hoping for, that’s for sure. 

1. Toyota’s teamwork — It took incredible commitment for the five Toyota drivers –” Truex and the four Joe Gibbs Racing pilots — to stay together at the end of the race and then wait until the final lap to settle among themselves, but that’s exactly what they did, with the result being Toyotas sweeping the top three spots and four of the top five.

"Think about how many plans you put in place before the race as momentous as this," said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm here. "You can’t control what you can’t control. Most of the time those plans go by the wayside. But our teams, our drivers, had the discipline and the trust in each other to execute that plan to a T. To come all the way to the white flag, 1-2-3-4-5, and then it was a race."

Indeed, it was. And a spectacular one at that.