For a while, Denny Hamlin actually made it look easy again.
An unfortunate pit strategy under green flag conditions may have put the kibosh on its bid to become the first driver to win three consecutive Daytona 500s Sunday night. But not until Hamlin showed again why he has become so dominant on superspeedways in recent years.
“We controlled the lines and controlled the pace – it was easy for a while,” said Hamlin after a race where he led the most laps (98) and swept both stages. “But I knew it would all be about the last pit stop if we had no other warnings.”
Before things went wrong, Hamlin often dictated the matter with his Toyota teammates behind him. Of course, a good spotter is crucial to mastering the art of superspeedway racing – and in Chris Lambert, Hamlin has one of the best.
“He does a really good job of painting a picture for me in the mirror, that way I don’t have to look like that,” Hamlin said of Lambert. “I can just trust what he says and take a step. That has been the key, I think, for me to be able to control and move side by side in cramped spaces. It has been our communication and how well we have worked together. ”
But after he and his teammates were mixed back in the field after the green flag cycle with less than 30 laps to go, Hamlin was at the mercy of the single-lane line that droned about 2.5 miles oval until about two laps to go.
Now running in single file with Joey Logano in front, Fords and Chevrolets quickly swallowed them up. Hamlin finished by stopping into the 13th in rounds. 176. When the white flag waved 23 laps later, he had only been able to move up to ninth.
He avoided the flaming, multi-car wreck in the final lap to finish fifth. Afterwards, he seemed miffed over the lack of effort to make a move with a win on the line.
“I understood at the end of the stages and waited until the last lap – you get some points no matter what,” he said. “But in the end, and this is selfish, I wonder, ‘What in the world? Why do we run in a single file line that crosses the white – 10th, 12th, 8th, 6th, are you just happy with that finish, or do you want to go for it? ‘Especially when there really were no Fords other than fifth or sixth – it was them and everyone else. So surprise everyone else did not go.
“I was not sure who was leading it, whether it was Austin (Dillon) or Chase (Elliott). I do not know. You have to win. I tried to do everything I could from the 12th. I kept pulling myself out of the queue and trying to work guys out, so try to pick them one by one. But I could not make it happen. When I got to eighth in the queue after I passed some patched cars, I was like, ‘This is all I have.’ I was just hoping they would go down with two left and we would get a restart and then I get a shot. It just did not happen to our advantage. ”
Everything is good that ends well for Larson
Kyle Larson seemed to have escaped the crash from the last lap, as Hamlin did, but contact from another competitor sent him into the turn 4 wall and spun.
Despite the incident, Larson was credited a 10th place after NASCAR froze the track at the time of the caution. It limited an official return to Cup racing, which had its ups and downs.
Larson scored points in both phases, but towards the end of Phase 2 he suffered a failure in the left rear wheel after being knocked into the wall. After finishing eighth in the stage, he was assessed as a pit road penalty for a safety violation.
He quietly made his way back to the front and was within striking distance of the leaders in the final lap before the crash.
“I thought we were in an OK place there at the end to get a top five, if not, maybe a win, if things went downhill and through (turns) three and four,” Larson said afterwards. “They all started going down in front of me.
“I almost got through; I think I barely snapped No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car and then kind of slipped all the way through (turns) three and four. Thought I might be able to save it, could not save it and started spinning. Lost some stains, but it was still a top 10. ”
Spire scores double top 10
Spire Motorsports expanded to a two-car program in the low season with Corey LaJoie as its mainstay in the No. 7 Chevrolet. For the Daytona 500, its second record, the 77th, was powered by the 2010 race winner and Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Jamie McMurray in a one-time effort.
Both drivers scored top-10 finishes with McMurray in eighth and LaJoie in ninth. Before Sunday, the team had only one top 10 finish in the Cup competition – its rain-shortened victory with regular Xfinity series Justin Haley at Daytona in July 2019.
– Corey LaJoie (@CoreyLaJoie) February 15, 2021
McMurray also recorded the fastest lap of the race in 44,945 seconds (200,245 mph) on Lap 189.
Rule of 3s
Twenty years after he lost his life in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt was honored with a tribute at round 3 on Sunday. Fans in the stands and competitors on the pit road lifted three fingers, while the pylon that scored lit up the bottom with Earnhardt’s famous No. 3.
Round 3 also saw the first elimination in Sunday’s race. Derrike Cope, who capitalized on Earnhardt’s flat tires in the final round to win the Daytona 500 in 1990, suffered a tire failure and crashed out of what was likely to be his last career Cup start.
Cope drove number 15 for Rick Ware Racing. Earnhardt ran number 15 for Bud Moore in the 1982 and 1983 seasons and earned – of course – three wins during that span.
The following year, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress’ no. 3 Chevrolet for good.
More Tags We Lovecalifornia auto insurance rates car insurance for what is full coverage auto insurance in florida who has cheapest auto insurance in florida travel insurance post office covid all auto insurance companies in florida how to get a life insurance refund how to work for a health insurance company auto insurance in nj cost which home insurance companies are the best