DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Matt Kenseth said he knew his teammate would be the one to make a move, and with nearly all of Joe Gibbs Racing lined up behind him in the closing laps of Sunday's Daytona 500, that was a pretty safe bet.
Specifically, Kenseth meant Denny Hamlin and he was correct.
It was Hamlin who bolted from the pack on the final lap of the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, forcing Kenseth to slide high to block, only to see the No. 11 Toyota dive underneath.
Hamlin then won a drag race to the photo-finish line with fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. The margin of victory, 0.010 second, was the closest in the history of the event.
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Kenseth, in the meantime, briefly danced along the outside wall before gathering his car back in. By then it was too late and all momentum had been lost.
He was scored in 14th as he made his way across the line.
Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing are new to the JGR camp after a move to Toyota during the offseason. JGR teammate and defending series champion Kyle Busch was third. Carl Edwards rounded out the JGR attack in fifth.
"I thought my only shot for the win was to get up there and get his nose centered up and hopefully get in front of him," Kenseth said afterward on pit road. "I made the block and then let him get outside of me, but he turned back under me and it got me real loose and get my left-rear and just went by.
"Masterful job of doing that. It doesn't get much more disappointing for us."
There was no second-guessing the move and no complaints about Hamlin's last-lap charge. It was hard racing.
"You're trying to win the Daytona 500," Kenseth said.
Kenseth led 40 laps (160-199), second only to Hamlin's 95 laps led on the day.
"It's really frustrating. It's really disappointing," the 2003 series champion said. "I feel like I let my team down pretty much for two weeks straight here and today was no exception to that. It's always disappointing when they put you in position to win and you can't get it done as a driver.
"My teammates were awesome all day, and our adopted teammate, Martin. When we put even three of 'em in a line, they were fast. When we put five in a line, nobody was going to touch 'em. It was going to be one of our cars that won unless we messed up. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the mix coming across the line."
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Crew chief Jason Ratcliff understands Kenseth's frustration, but was quick to put it in perspective.
"What else can you ask for?" he said. "It was hard to make moves out there today. There was really none. We lost some track position with a couple of (pit) stops to go. The guys did a good job of putting a stop down when it counted and getting us off pit road on that green-flag (pit) cycle. Matt did a good job saving (fuel). At that point we couldn't make it but the caution got us there."
He has won his share of races since being teamed with Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 champion. But winning the 500 remains on the to-do list for the crew chief.
"It's disappointing. You don't get that many opportunities like that. But it is what it is," Ratcliff said. "At least we weren't out there running around in 20th all day. To have to start in the back already with a backup car, to be able to go up there and lead some laps, have a shot at it, I'm glad one of our teammates was able to bring it home."
It's the Daytona 500, the series' biggest event, and teams find it difficult to just shrug it off and move on. But eventually they know that has to happen. It's the same for the winner as well as those who depart disappointed.
Sunday's result will be put to rest before the new week begins, according to Ratcliff.
"As soon as the plane lands in Concord (Sunday night) and we step off and get on the ground, get our luggage, this one is over," he said. "We're pushing toward Atlanta when the sun comes up in the morning and we'll try to win that one."