NOTEBOOK: Biggest race is irrelevant to rest of season, Hamlin notes
Facts back him up
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin was right on the money.
Asked if he had anything to prove in the Daytona, which he has never won, Hamlin spoke frankly but cited facts that are simply undeniable.
“I think the Daytona 500 weekend, in general, has no relation to how guys typically run for the championship,” he said. “I think that it's very typical, though, when we leave here that there will be a surprise winner or third-place finisher, and we're all talking about how great of a season he's going to have and it just does not relate. This is a total different race from what we race most of the time.
“For us, our season starts five or six races in. That's when we know where we stand as far as completion is concerned. We want to be competing for race wins at that point when we're at intermediate track, short tracks. Here, it's your fate. You decide some of it, but most of it you don't. We take this for face value.”
A year ago, Trevor Bayne came to Daytona Beach with a part-time schedule in Sprint Cup and a full slate of Nationwide Series races. He then won NASCAR’s biggest race. Now he has a similar Cup schedule with the Wood Brothers and his Nationwide plans are uncertain. The third-place finisher in the 500 was David Gilliland. Bobby Labonte was fourth.
The exception, of course, was Carl Edwards, who finished second in both the 500 and … the Chase.
For the man who has everything: Yes, Tony Stewart wants to win the Daytona 500. His record is starting to look like the late Dale Earnhardt, who won the 500 only once but dominated virtually every other race during Speedweeks.
Stewart has won the Nationwide Series race six times. He’s won the Budweiser Shootout thrice and twice won a Gatorade Duel.
“I wouldn’t trade three championships to win Daytona,” Stewart said (but, then again, he’s already done that). “It’s not a good feeling to not have that tally in the win column.
“Realistically, we have two tracks we haven't won at; and the Daytona 500 we haven't won. Everything else we have pretty much accomplished in this sport that we want to accomplish. It’s the biggest race of the year; everyone wants to win it. I won’t say that it’s not a complete career if you don’t win it, but there is a lot of priority on winning it. Darrell Waltrip and Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. both had to go a long time before they got it.”
Technically, there are three tracks where Stewart has never won, but Kentucky has only been on the schedule for a year. The others are Darlington and Las Vegas.
Stewart vs. Edwards: The reigning champion, Stewart, came within a few feet of winning the Budweiser Shootout. The driver who lost that title by tie-breaker, Edwards, won the 500 pole.
Is this “the” rivalry?
“I don’t know if it will be a rivalry because we have so much respect for each other,” Stewart said, “but I kind of thought that, too, after I ran second and then Carl got the pole. I thought, man, we’re both picking up right where we left off.”
Somewhere between: Kurt Busch said, “Anyone can win this race.” But, said Jamie McMurray, “I think my chances of winning are a lot better than one in 43.”
And Danica Patrick said, “I think my inexperience is less of an issue here because the car is easy to drive.”
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton