DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It had been an odd Speedweeks for Denny Hamlin.
He had yet to win.
In three of the previous five Speedweeks, Hamlin had won some sort of race — Daytona 500, Clash or his qualifying race. Entering Sunday’s Daytona 500, things had not gone his way.
He was collected in the 17-car accident in the Clash. He didn’t have much of a chance in his qualifying race, the lone Toyota surrounded by Fords at the front. The result was a fourth-place finish.
But even though he hadn’t won, this had been a good week for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
“Not winning the Clash, not winning the Duel, maybe a little bit under the radar, but certainly we knew what we were capable of in the Duel,” Hamlin said Monday morning after his winning car was delivered to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America outside Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway. “We were kind of by ourselves in that pack of Fords. I knew my options were kind of limited of what I was going to be able to do but we put ourselves in position, nonetheless.
“We really didn’t have to do much to the car honestly. They came pretty prepared with a car that was handling well. It had minor issues in the race as far as handling was concerned. Looking at the competition, it looked like everyone had their hands full. It was just a lot different track conditions than what we had practiced in but we were pretty confident in past notes and through the races we had already run that we were going to be fine in the 500, especially this race ending at night, the track grips back up again. So you just have to survive to that point.”
“That was the hair-raising moment because I knew they were experienced enough to get a run on me at the end,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “So that to me, the final green-white-checkered was me vs. them, how am I going to beat them?”
“The fortunate part for me, I knew that (Logano) was not going to be content with pushing (Busch). When (Logano) did (make a move), I really just started hitting the brake and backing up and making sure I didn’t get too big of a gap.”
Hamlin went on to score his second Daytona 500 victory in four years. He also is the winningest driver during Speedweeks since 2014, scoring five wins.
And this Speedweeks no longer was an odd one Sunday night for Hamlin as he celebrated a victory.
“Still, we’re in the motorhome last night after we come back and I just don’t believe it, the trophy is sitting right there on the counter,” Hamlin said. “It just didn’t seem real. Everything happened in slow motion. This one just has an entirely different feel to it.”