15 February 2008
TOYOTA WINS FIRST CUP RACE AS NINE CAMRYS QUALIFY FOR 500
Toyota has won its first NASCAR Sprint Cup race after Denny Hamlin led home a Camry 1-2 in the second Duel qualifying race for Sunday's 50th running of the Daytona 500 - a race that will feature a record nine Camrys.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Hamlin beat team-mate Tony Stewart to the chequered flag in an action-packed second of two qualifying races that determined the field for the 500.
A large crash that claimed Toyota rookie and former F1 star Jacques Villeneuve early in the race, along with a late race red flag to clear debris, meant the race ran 64 laps rather than the scheduled 60.
Toyota's win is the first by a non-American manufacturer in NASCAR's premier category for more than 50 years and affirms Toyota's chances of overall victory at the season-opening Daytona race.
Hamlin and Stewart will be joined on the Camry starters list by guaranteed front-row starter Michael Waltrip, his two team-mates Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Dave Blaney, Kyle Bush and J.J. Yeley.
Of the 11 Toyota drivers who attempted to qualify, only Villeneuve and Team Red Bull's A.J. Allmendinger failed to qualify, with Allmendinger missing the field by one place.
Three-time Daytona 500 winner Jarrett was not guaranteed a starting position heading into the second Duel race, but the 52-year-old raced his way into what will be his final 500 before he retires after the season's fifth race.
Similarly, Team Red Bull's Vickers was not assured of a starting position, but a gamble to pit for new tyres during a late-race caution in the first Duel race gave him enough extra speed to claim an 11th place finish and scrape into the field.
"We've come a long way," Vickers told NASCAR.com following his Duel race. "Obviously we missed this race last year, and it was pretty painful. (But ) we didn't give up this year. We had to overcome a lot. This feels like a win."
Vickers had a problem with his car's ignition box during initial qualifying last Sunday, before recovering from an off-track incident in Duel 1 when he was forced to the infield and spun numerous times, only to recover and race into the 500 field.
The 50th running of 'America's Great Race' will take place this Monday, 18 February (Australian time) and can be viewed on Network 10's new HD channel from 6am AEST.
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Denny Hamlin celebrates with his Joe Gibbs Racing team after scoring Toyota's first NASCAR Sprint Cup win, when he claimed victory in the second qualifying race for the 50th edition of the Daytona 500.
Denny Hamlin (11) and Tony Stewart finished 1-2 with Hamlin scoring Toyota's first NASCAR Sprint Cup win.