After 2016 saw Denny Hamlin edge out Martin Truex Jr. by .010 seconds in the closest finish in DAYTONA 500 history, it got us thinking about the other epic, tight finishes in DAYTONA 500 history. Join us over the next few weeks as we highlight the five closest finishes in 58 years of “The Great American Race.”
Coming in at fourth-closest is the 2011 DAYTONA 500. The 53rd running of the iconic race was the first run on the newly-repaved track surface. The brand-new pavement proved effective as it led to the fourth-closest DAYTONA 500 finish at .118 seconds.
With a skilled DAYTONA driver starting on the pole in Dale Earnhardt Jr. and three-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jeff Gordon beside him, it didn’t appear that February 20, 2011 would be a day for an underdog – especially one starting 32nd.
However, it proved to be exactly that.
Driving the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford, Trevor Bayne, who turned 20 years old the day prior to the race, became the youngest driver to win the DAYTONA 500, returning the legendary race team to Gatorade Victory Lane for the first time in 10 years.
Things began breaking right for an upset before the event even began as race favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, running in back-up cars, were sent to the rear of the field.
As soon as the green flag dropped it became apparent that fans were in store for a thrilling race – one that holds the event record for most different leaders (22) and most lead changes (74). In fact, no driver led more than eight consecutive laps until Clint Bowyer led 10 laps from Lap 131-140. Bayne managed to stay out of trouble the entire day and was at the front of the field during the closing stages of the race.
At the Lap 202 restart, which set up the first green-white-checkered attempt, David Ragan was the leader, but was black-flagged when he changed lanes before taking the green flag at the start/finish line, giving the lead to Trevor Bayne for the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. On the final lap, Carl Edwards and David Gilliland mounted a charge on the inside lane with Edwards closing in on Bayne coming out of Turn 4. However, the brand-new member of the 20-year-old club dropped to the bottom lane to block the hard-charging Edwards and held on to win the first race of his Sprint Cup Series career.
With the win, the No. 21 car became the winningest number in DAYTONA 500 history with five. Joining Bayne are Tiny Lund (1963), Cale Yarborough (1968), A.J. Foyt (1972) and David Pearson (1976).
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