DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Denny Hamlin joined some elite company on Monday evening at the Daytona International Speedway. Hamlin, used some great late race maneuvers en route to his third Daytona 500 triumph of his career.
Hamlin, made a last lap move for the win en route to joining Bobby Allison, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett as three time winners of the Great American Race.
Only Richard Petty (7) and Cale Yarborough (4) have more.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also become the first driver to go back-to-back since Sterling Marlin won two straight ‘500’s in 1994 and again in 1995. The last time before that was 1983 and again in 1984.
But, it’s the nature as to how he’s doing it. The Virginia native says that he’s learned a lot over the years in terms of superspeedway racing.
“People think of a lot of times throughout my career as being a short-track guy, and really, I deem myself a short-track guy, who has just adapted really well to superspeedway racing,” Hamlin said on Wednesday during Daytona 500 Media Day. “A lot of that has come from watching some of the best do it.”
Hamlin, has had a front row seat at watching the best race at Daytona too. Tony Stewart was a former teammate of his and Stewart went on to make 19 trips to victory lane at Daytona during the course of his Hall of Fame career.
“He’s the guy that I kind of idolized and looked at the way he did things,” he said of Stewart. “I feel like over the second half of my career have really been a student of the game on, how can I improve? How can I put myself in a better position to finish these races?”
Hamlin noted that he has a solid feel on when to get out of harms way during these crazy superspeedway races. The Virginia native noted that when you feel that hair on the back of your neck stand up that it’s time to get out and go to the back for a while.
“You know that the things you’ve been doing have been successful, and I won’t change any of them until it doesn’t work anymore and I have to adapt.”
He made great moves on Monday too. On a late race restart, Hamlin knowing that he wouldn’t have any drafting help from any other Toyota drivers as two had exited the race with crash damage, one with engine problems and the only other one running being outside the top 15 with crash damage himself.
So, Hamlin pushed Ryan Newman out to the lead as they’d tandem draft for three laps around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. The move was brilliant as it made it a two-man race for the win and he can move out and pass Newman without consequences of Newman getting drafting help from a fellow Ford.
It worked too. Hamlin, moved out to pass Newman on Lap 197 and took the lead. Unfortunately, a crash would occur in Turn 1, making it all for not.
On the ensuing restart, we’d see another crash meaning Hamlin had another opportunity to hold off the field. But, he was a lame duck. The Ford’s grouped up and powered past Hamlin on the backstretch in tandem. It was Newman being pushed by Ryan Blaney this time by Hamlin on the Dayton Superstretch to the lead.
Hamlin though, brilliantly jumped in behind Blaney when Blaney decided to not lock bumpers and it was Hamlin now pushing Blaney the way he pushed Newman a few laps earlier.
They’d catch Newman exiting Turn 4 and Blaney moved low to get away from Hamlin. Newman, unfortunately moved low to blow Blaney’s run and endured a frightening crash as a result. Hamlin, skated by on the high line and became the only repeat winner here since 2010. In fact, this was his third Daytona 500 crown in the last five years.
To go along with that, he has three wins in both the Duels (2008, 2014, 2017) as well as the Clash (2006, 2014, 2016).
“I mean, it’s just all numbers when you get somebody pretty close to — in proximity behind you or pushing,” Hamlin said following his Daytona 500 victory. “It’s like once they break that bubble of being connected, it really shoots that lead car out, and it’s just kind of a product of the race package that we have.
“But overall, I thought the racing was pretty good, and obviously the closing rate is so drastic with this package that you’ve really got to time your runs out and figure out where you want to be.”
Hamlin, says that winning a superspeedway race these days is harder as ever because of that.
“I think about the names, and Chris is always quick to remind me of what a win would do here, where does it put you and the names that it puts you with, I consider those professors of racing like this, and I’m just a guy that’s a student, and it’s been great to be on the run that we’ve been on the last five years at this racetrack — well, more than five,” Hamlin continued.
“I just can’t fathom, being that it’s harder to win today than ever because all the cars are so close together and with the attrition, the wrecks. It’s harder to win now than ever.”
Hamlin’s boss, Joe Gibbs, gave his driver the upmost praise saying just how hard that it is to win one of these races nowadays.
“I think as far as winning this race, I can tell you how hard it is,” Gibbs said. “I think we were a stretch of 22 years and didn’t win it. Just on our race team, you’ve got Martin Truex Jr), Kyle (Busch), been here 15 times, haven’t won it, and then to have Denny — you know, in sports I think sometimes you’re not quite sure why or how when you watch somebody. They just have a gift. Even last week, that was miraculous, for him to get back out there and be able to — down a lap and everything.
“I think it does — I think this is one of the things as fans, we love to see somebody that’s special and has a gift.”