Denny Hamlin had never failed to finish a Daytona 500 before Sunday’s 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
We hear before the start of every NASCAR Cup Series season that the key to the Daytona 500 is simply surviving and keeping the car clean – and calling that “simple” is a big stretch.
For most drivers, that is.
Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has talked about having something of a “sixth sense” about what is going to happen in the “Great American Race” to the extent that he is able to avoid “The Big One” on a consistent basis .
And the numbers back up that claim.
Hamlin entered Sunday’s 201-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4,023-mile) high-banked oval in Daytona Beach, Florida having finished the Daytona 500 in each of his first 16 attempts. His worst finish in those 16 attempts was a 30th place finish in his rookie year in 2006.
Entering Sunday’s race, the driver of the # 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing was also aiming to become just the third driver to win the Daytona 500 four times. Richard Petty leads all drivers, having won seven times in 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979 and 1981.
Cale Yarborough is a distant second on the list, having won four times in 1968, 1977, 1983 and 1984. Hamlin, who won the race in 2016, 2019 and 2020, is tied with Bobby Allison (1978, 1982 and 1988), Dale Jarrett (1993, 1996 and 2000) and Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999 and 2015).
On Sunday, he not only fell shy of a fourth victory, but for the first time in 17 tries, he failed to finish the Daytona 500.
Hamlin’s car was damaged in a lap 63 accident on the back straightaway that involved eight cars and caused four to retire from the competition.
The # 11 Toyota, along with Ross Chastain’s # 1 Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet, Harrison Burton’s # 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford and William Byron’s # 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, were the four cars knocked out of the race.
But that may not have been the most disappointing part of the evening for Hamlin.
Hamlin, the co-owner of 23XI Racing along with NBA legend Michael Jordan, saw Bubba Wallace finish in second place, just 0.036 seconds behind Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric. Kurt Busch finished in 19th in his first start for the team, which only just expanded from one car to two after their first season in 2021.
After one of 36 races on this year’s schedule, Hamlin is tied with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron for last place in the point standings among full-time, points-eligible drivers.