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Cody Kluge Cody Kluge BVM Sports Journalist/Editor

Denny Hamlin: Chance at fourth Daytona 500 win ‘means so much’

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BVM) – NASCAR fans know that at the Daytona 500, anything can happen. That’s been proven true time and again in the first 64 editions of the “Great American Race.”

However, going into each season, there is always a short list of favorites to win NASCAR’s biggest race. Over the past several years, Denny Hamlin has been near the top.

Hamlin took home his first Daytona 500 win in dramatic fashion in 2016, earning the race’s closest victory ever as he beat out Martin Truex Jr. by 0.01 seconds. 

Three years later in 2019, Hamlin’s margin of victory was wider, but the significance of the win may have been even greater, as he edged out teammate Kyle Busch to earn a win for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) just weeks after the death of the team’s co-founder, J.D. Gibbs. 

The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota went back-to-back with another Daytona 500 victory in 2020. As impressive as the victories have been, Hamlin realizes it has taken precision, execution and luck to come away with his three Daytona wins.

“I’ve been fortunate to have fast cars for one, but then the execution,” Hamlin said in an interview with Mike Massaro during BVM Sports’ weekly show “Cup Connection.” “This race is really so much about execution and making sure you don’t make mistakes, especially with the next-gen car where it’s really hard to make it from the back to the front in a timely fashion.

“You got to have the skillset, you have to have execution and you have to have luck. They all probably are weighted about equally on percentage of what it takes, but you have to have them all happen on the same day which is why it’s so difficult.”

With three Daytona 500 victories, Hamlin is tied for the third-most all time alongside the likes of Bobby Allison, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett. A fourth win would tie him with the great Cale Yarborough in second for all-time Daytona 500 wins to Richard Petty, who took his car to victory lane seven times in the “Great American Race.”

Denny Hamlin Daytona 500 NASCAR Cup Series Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Toyota
Denny Hamlin won his third Daytona 500 in 2020. (Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

A 48-time Cup Series winner, Hamlin certainly has what it takes to get his fourth victory in the race. However, this year, a host of things will be different than they were in his previous wins. 

One of those is the next-gen cars that debuted in 2022. There has been a lot of commentary on the cars over the past year, and Hamlin notes that they result in a lot more two-by-two racing as the drag of the car creates a different impact than in the past.

“It’s way different, it’s a different race,” Hamlin said. “I really try to just put myself in a position where I have to stay up front. I need to stay in the top five, execute on pit road, and then I can give myself a shot at the end … It’s a different type of speedway racing than what we’ve had in the past.”

Another difference for the JGR team member and co-owner of 23XI Racing in 2023 will be not having one of his longtime teammates in Busch by his side. Busch left JGR at the end of last season for Richard Childress Racing, and will officially debut the No. 8 3CHI Chevrolet on Sunday.

“I certainly think he’s going to be a tough guy to beat,” Hamlin said. “His results haven’t always been that great on superspeedways, but I know that his skillset is plenty good enough to do it.”

One thing that has not changed drastically from his first three wins in the Daytona 500 is Hamlin’s starting position. In his past three victories, Hamlin has started 10th, 11th and 21st. This year, he finds himself starting 18th in the ninth row alongside Zane Smith.

However, with the difference the next-gen cars have made when it comes to racing on superspeedways, Hamlin is still deciding on what strategy his team ultimately wants to use to compete in the race.

“I can, I think I have to be patient, though,” Hamlin said about making it to the front of the race. “I think the key also is going to be avoiding the wrecks that happen at the end of stages. I typically bail on that. I try to get out of those packs, but with the racing being so different, I don’t know that I can afford to lay back and wait until the end of the race. I’m torn on what strategy I’m going to play out. I just need to talk to my team more and find out more analytics of what we really feel like that gives us the best chance and the best odds to win.”

No matter what Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Ford team employ as a strategy on Sunday, the longtime Cup Series driver figures to be in the mix. The Daytona 500 is a special opportunity for anyone who competes in it, but the chance to tie Yarborough with his fourth win in the “Great American Race” is something Hamlin is relishing throughout the weekend.

“It means so much,” Hamlin said. “It’s just a different game now, and I believe that it’s tougher now than it ever has been. When those guys were winning and dominating, they were probably racing each other, and maybe a couple of other cars on the lead lap. It’s just so different now with these cars. We’ve got 36 cars that can probably go out there and win on Sunday. It takes so many things to have to go right for you to win them. If I can win four in this era, I never would’ve dreamed I would have three, but to have four, I’m as motivated for this one as any.”