It was a photo finish at Daytona International Speedway Sunday and for Southold native Mike Wheeler it’s an image that will last a lifetime.
WHAT. A. FINISH!
— FOX SPORTS: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 21, 2016
In his first Daytona 500 as a crew chief, Mr. Wheeler claimed a victory when driver Denny Hamlin made his move on the race’s final lap and edged his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. by a hundreth of a second.
Mr. Hamlin was in fourth place in his No. 11 Toyota entering lap No. 200, trailing three teammates, before making his move to the closest win in Daytona 500 history.
In his post-race interview on Fox, Mr. Wheeler said Mr. Hamlin had wanted to make his move once he knew victory was assured for his JGR team.
“He said two [laps] to go, gotta make sure we have a team win,” Mr. Wheeler said. “He made a run on the outside and he blocked. I just can’t believe it.”
A stunned Mr. Hamlin had no answer for how he pulled off the narrow win in his televised post-race interview.
“I can’t even figure out what I did,” he told Fox. It was the first Daytona 500 win for Mr. Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Mr. Hamlin was coming off a win in overtime at the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday, also on the 2.5 mile track at Daytona International Speedway. It was the first Sprint Cup race for Mr. Hamlin with Mr. Wheeler as his crew chief.
Wheeler, a 1997 graduate of Southold High School, was officially promoted to serve as a crew chief at NASCAR’s highest level in December. He most recently served as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series.
The son of Dick and Laureen Wheeler of Southold — his family has owned Wheeler’s Garage on Route 48 for decades — Mike Wheeler has worked with Joe Gibbs Racing since the 2003 season.