When you think of some of the most successful NASCAR drivers at Daytona, Denny Hamlin might not be at the top of many lists, but the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran is steadily stamping his place in the speedway’s history. Hamlin has tallied nine wins at Daytona, the most of any driver entered this weekend, although not all of them have earned him points.
- Two Daytona 500 wins in 2016 and ’19.
- Three Duel wins in ’08, ’14, and ’17.
- Three Clash wins in ’06, ’14, and ’16, and also the first rookie to win the event.
- One Xfinity Series win in ’08.
Denny and Daytona. They just seem to go together, and Hamlin has even developed a different attitude and confidence for the track.
“People think of (me) 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. “And a lot of that has come from watching some of the best do it.”
One such driver was Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hamlin, who as a friend joined Earnhardt in victory lane when he won the 2004 Daytona 500, has even finished second to Earnhardt in the Daytona 500 (2014). In all, Earnhardt Jr. has 17 Daytona wins.
Tony Stewart, a former teammate of Hamlin’s, provided another example. Even though Stewart never won the Daytona 500, Hamlin always felt Stewart had put himself in a position to do so. Throughout his racing career — Duel races, the Clash, the Xfinity Series, the summer Cup Series race, and even in the IROC Series — Stewart won 19 times at Daytona.
“He’s the guy that I kind of idolized and looked at the way he did things,” said Hamlin. “I feel like over the second half of my career (I) 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 has also learned to trust his instincts at the superspeedway races and knowing when to push hard or disappear.
“When you feel that hair on the back of your neck stand up,” he said, “it’s time to get out.”
This Sunday, Hamlin will be introduced as the two-time and defending Daytona 500 winner and looking to join an elite club of drivers who have won it three or more times.
“It’s tough, but there is more confidence,” he said of trying to repeat. “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. I think that it’s been really a great run we’ve had over the last eight years in particular. We’ve been a factor to win every Daytona 500, it seems like, for the last decade, so I come here thinking that there’s no reason that should be any different.”