Denny Hamlin, the driver, finished fourth Sunday at Kansas Speedway, but Denny Hamlin, the 23XI Racing co-owner, had reason to celebrate.
A win by Kurt Busch, who was hired for the team’s second car this season alongside Bubba Wallace, won the AdventHealth 400. It’s Busch’s first victory in the No. 45 Toyota and the second for the organization, and Hamlin, because he was running well himself, had a front-row seat for the final laps as Busch prevailed over Kyle Larson.
All of which made Hamlin emotional afterward.
“It was right there in front of me and I’m pushing because honestly, I really wanted a one-two finish really bad,” Hamlin said. “The funniest part was seeing it and seeing it live. I’m watching it [saying], ‘Go. Go.’ It’s just such a weird feeling, but I looked at my lap times and I was doing my job; I wasn’t letting up at all and getting the most out of the car that I could.
“You can’t help be emotional about it. Certainly, there’s been no win that I’ve had that has equaled the emotions of this one, for sure.”
On pit road with Fox Sports for his post-race interview, Hamlin took a moment to stop Busch as he drove to victory lane. Hamlin leaned into the cockpit to congratulate his driver with a high-five and hug, which Busch returned with as much enthusiasm.
“We did this,” Busch told Hamlin. “We did it, man.”
Said Hamlin, “Thank you.” Hamlin then wiped tears from his eyes before returning to his television interview.
Wallace earned the organization its first win last fall at Talladega Superspeedway. Sunday, he finished 10th at Kansas.
Hamlin is a three-time Daytona 500 champion with 47 wins in the Cup Series, but he admitted seeing Busch and 23XI Racing go to victory lane was the most excited he’s been at the racetrack.
“Emotionally, for sure,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, I’ve been excited for the Daytona 500, but I don’t know why this one…it just feels bigger to me. I think a lot of it is because I watched it live. I think, had I been on the other side of the track and just kind of looked at the pylon, it would have been one thing, but I had a front-row seat to it. I don’t know.
“I kind of have a tough RBF [resting bitch face] and I don’t show my emotion a lot, but I am an emotional person. I get emotional when I get around the team guys. I got emotional when I hugged Billy [Scott] at the pit box. I see how excited they are and I know how hard they work. This is family. Inside that small building that we’re in right now, it is a family. We’re all very, very tight, so the wins just feel bigger for that reason.”