In the mid-1930s, a mechanic named William “Bill” France Sr. moved from his native Washington, D.C. to Daytona Beach, Florida in the hopes of giving himself and his family a new start in the midst of The Great Depression.
France was a car enthusiast who soon found himself immersed in the area’s fairly vibrant racing scene after earning enough money to open a garage located at 316 Main Street. That repair shop initially served as the unofficial headquarters for what was dubbed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, which was officially established in the city on February 21, 1948.
The organization most people know better as “NASCAR” has certainly come a long way since then, but the governing body has also stayed pretty close to its roots when you consider what is arguably its premier event—the Daytona 500—has been held in the city where it was founded since 1959.
France designed Daytona International Speedway with spectators in mind, and over the years, millions of auto racing fans have made the pilgrimage to watch the best drivers on the planet attempt to conquer the iconic venue while traversing the 2.5-mile track 200 times.
That includes the massive crowd that packed into the grandstands at the Daytona 500 when NASCAR kicked off its season in 2016—a race that saw everyone in attendance (as well as the more than 11 million viewers watching it on television) witness one of the wildest finishes in NASCAR history.
How Denny Hamlin pulled off the closest finish in Daytona 500 history
The 2016 Daytona 500 was held exactly 68 years after NASCAR was officially incorporated, and there were plenty of drivers angling to walk away with one of the most prestigious trophies the organization has to offer.
Joey Logano was hoping to defend his title after earning the checkered flag the previous year, but he faced some pretty stiff competition in the form of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who headed into the race as the odds-on favorite) and other notable talents like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin.
Chase Elliot theoretically had the edge at the start of the 58th running of the race, but he squandered the pole position he earned in the qualifying heats by crashing after just three laps. Earnhardt Jr. was able to last a bit longer, but he also saw his hopes dashed after crashing with 29 laps remaining.
Hamlin headed into the final circuit having led on more laps (94) than anyone else in the race, but he was facing an uphill battle in his quest to increase that number to 95 when he ended up sitting in fourth place heading into the final one behind leader Matt Kenseth, who was trailed closely by Martin Truex Jr. and Busch.
Hamlin initially tried to make a move on the outside on the first turn but failed to make any significant progress.
However, he got some help from Harvick on the next curve, as he got a push that helped him surge toward the front of the pack. He was also able to expertly outfox Kenseth, who came this close to spinning out after failing to thwart the maneuver that allowed Truex Jr. to take the slimmest of leads over Hamlin heading into the final stretch.
Truex Jr. theoretically had the better position heading toward the finish line, but Hamlin put the pedal to the medal as hard as he could to treat us to the thrilling photo finish that ultimately saw the latter walk away with the victory he’d earned by .01 seconds.
While that wasn’t enough to set the record for the closest win in NASCAR history (a race has been decided by .002 seconds on two occasions), it remains the narrowest margin of victory ever recorded at the Daytona 500.