“I don’t have any remorse for the retiring drivers,” Hamlin said Thursday at an event promoting the Coke Zero 400.
It’s a topic Hamlin said is raised around him “all the time” in the lead up to Earnhardt’s final Cup start at the superspeedway, a track that is an important part of both driver’s careers.
Earnhardt will return to Daytona for the final time as a driver seeking his 18th career win at the 2.5-mile track, including points and non-points races (11), as well as six Xfinity victories. Two of Earnhardt’s wins have come in the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500 (2004 and 2014).
Hamlin, meanwhile, has seven total Cup Daytona wins, including the 2016 Daytona 500. He also has one Xfinity win.
Of course the “What if?” scenario of two of the best restrictor-plate drivers battling in the closing laps at Daytona would be an enticing one.
“‘Would you do anything different racing Dale Jr. for a win’?” Hamlin said, repeating the question he’s been asked. “We all are on our own different agendas. Even though we kind of sympathize, ‘Hey, he’s going to be retiring, take it easy on the old guy.’
“I remember a guy that was retiring last year that took me out at Sonoma on the last lap.”
That “guy” was Tony Stewart. He and Hamlin exchanged the lead twice in the last few turns of the road course where Stewart had won twice before.
Stewart caught Hamlin on the final turn and slammed the No. 11 Toyota into the pit road wall before streaking to the finish line to claim his 49th and final Cup win.
Hamlin won’t give Earnhardt an inch, but such a showdown is exactly what he wants.
“Ideally, I’d like to beat Dale Jr. on the last lap at Daytona,” Hamlin said. “I know it might be a bad thing for the fans, they might not like it. My fans surely will and I know it would be a great moment for me.”