Martin Truex Jr. proves to be a team player in narrow loss

Hamlin: 'I have no idea how we won that race' (1:40)

Denny Hamlin joins SportsCenter to recap his photo finish over Martin Truex Jr. in the Daytona 500. (1:40)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Martin Truex Jr. hugged his crew chief Cole Pearn and sighed, "I'm sorry, man."

"Four inches," Pearn replied, shaking his head, but grinning nonetheless.

Those four inches -- also expressed as 0.010 seconds -- represents the closest finish in the 58-year history of the Daytona 500. That's also how close Truex and Furniture Row Racing came to winning their first race with Toyota in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Instead, it was JGR's Denny Hamlin who prevailed, somehow squeezing his No. 11 Camry past Truex's No. 78 in a bold move as the two Toyotas raced to the finish line.

The Gibbs-FRR alliance dominated the latter stages of the race, running first through fifth with Matt Kenseth leading as the laps wound down.

When Kenseth moved up to block the charging Hamlin, Truex thought he had the race won. But thanks to a big push from Kevin Harvick, Hamlin had so much momentum that he was able to sweep past Truex on the outside line in the last few feet before the finish line.

"I had him from off of [Turn] 4 almost all the way to the line," Truex told reporters in pit lane after the race.

"I should have started crowding him up the track a little more when he was laying on my quarter panel, and kind of returned the favor up the hill. I may have beaten him to the line. But the further we got, the more he was inching up on me. I just didn't do exactly what I needed to do, but at the same time I didn't want to wreck us both, either.

"It's tough making those split-second decisions and second-guessing yourself, but if I had to do it over again, I'd do the same thing."

Pearn, the second-year crew chief who played a big role in helping Truex finish fourth in the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship, took the close loss in stride.

"It seems like the outside line always shakes out that way at the end," he said. "But all in all, just a great day all day long. That was the smoothest 500-mile race I've been a part of so it was pretty fun to be able to execute that way all day.

"That was really the first speedway race we've had in a long time with teammates. We had a good plan coming in and we were able to all work well together. I think it shows the promise we've got going ahead and that definitely gets you excited."

Until the end of the 2015 season, Furniture Row was a Chevrolet team, working loosely in alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Last year, Truex and the No. 78 emerged as the strongest RCR entry, winning at Pocono and making it to the championship round of the Chase at Homestead.

But FRR general manager Joe Garrone realized that the one-car team based out of Colorado needed a closer technical partnership than it was getting from Chevy and Childress.

"It's everything, especially in our situation as a single-car team," Garrone said. "It truly feels like a five-car team now. I can't imagine it working much better, and it's going to continue to grow.

"There are certain things we need out of a technical alliance, but there are a lot of things we do ourselves. We like to think that we can bring that to the table, even if we bring some things that don't work. As long as it comes into the collective pool, everyone can learn from it."

The same message was expressed by Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson. Needless to say, he was thrilled by Toyota's first Daytona 500 victory in its 10th attempt.

In fact, Wilson called it the biggest motorsports victory in the company's history, even greater than Gil de Ferran's triumph in the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

He said he believed the recruitment of FRR and Truex to the Toyota camp would strengthen the manufacturer's hand.

"We tried for years and years to build a collaboration between Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, and we got better and started sharing more, but it really wasn't the type of collaboration we wanted to see happen," Wilson said.

"But when we started talking to Furniture Row, I sensed there was a level of trust in each other and a shared value system and structure that could actually allow this collaboration to succeed. On paper it looked good, but it takes men and women in both of those shops to execute that collaboration.

"We couldn't go to work together until November 22, and that that was 90 days ago today. What they were simply able to achieve to get to the Daytona 500 was impressive by itself. So it's so far, so good."

The way Truex raced with his quasi-teammates also elicited praise from race winner Hamlin.

"He's a tough competitor," Hamlin said. "I thought off Turn 4 he was in the catbird seat, but I just laid on his door and grinded the run off of him.

"I'll praise Martin as much as my teammates. He did a great job of working with all of us on the restarts. He did a great job of being a great Toyota teammate. He's a great addition. He's a satellite team, but we definitely welcome him as a partner to Joe Gibbs Racing and essentially a new teammate."

Truex and his team expected some growing pains as they made the transition from Chevrolet and RCR to Toyota and JGR, so opening the season with such a strong performance was extremely encouraging.

He lost the biggest race of the NASCAR season in heartbreaking fashion Sunday, but came out of it with the perspective of a man who knows how to find the bright side in any situation.

Since the end of 2013, he unexpectedly lost his ride with MWR and nearly lost his girlfriend to cancer.

So finishing second in the Daytona 500 isn't as bad as it might seem.

"I know I'm going to have to watch that highlight reel for years and years and years to come," Truex said. "But I'm fine. Two years ago, I would have been sitting here with a sourpuss look on my face.

"Today was a great day. This is a competition and we all want to win. But I realize that I'm going to have a lot more opportunities to win races.

"Everybody is extremely happy. We just came up a bit short."