Column By: REID SPENCER & HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Although he was still one lap down at the end of Sunday’s Busch Clash at Daytona, Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fast—fast enough to push the heavily damaged No. 20 Camry of teammate Erik Jones to the win.
But Hamlin offered a word of caution to those who might be expecting a similar denouement at the end of Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“The difference would be that his car was so damaged, it was pushing his car back into mine,” Hamlin said. “He had such big nose damage, it kept our lock tighter than what it normally is. If you have two cars that are pretty healthy, that lock is not as strong.
“That’s not to say I won’t be seeking out wrecked cars when it comes down to the end of it, if I’m still around. It was something special which I linked up there, I knew he was in for a ride as long as he held on.”
Jones held on for the win, but just short of the finish line, Hamlin left the back bumper of Jones’ Toyota. There was speculation that defending Daytona 500 winner Hamlin might be practicing a move for Sunday’s race.
“No, I would have made the move much sooner,” Hamlin demurred. “I didn’t want to get in his checkered flag photo. I was just trying to get out of there.”
RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS TO HONOR JOHN ANDRETTI AND KOBE BRYANT
Bubba Wallace’s famed No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet will essentially be even more legendary for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The team will carry memorial tributes to the car’s former driver John Andretti and also to NBA great Kobe Bryant.
The front roof pillar will carry Andretti’s name, an homage to the popular driver who passed away Jan. 30 after a long, valiant battle with colon cancer. Andretti drove for Petty in the 1998-2003 seasons earning a victory at Phoenix in 1999.
Bryant, a perennial All-Star, played for the Los Angeles Lakers and was killed along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash in California on Jan. 26.
Wallace said it was a “given” that the team would honor its former driver Andretti, a popular competitor both in and out of the race car. And Bryant was a particular favorite of Wallace’s.
“I was going to put his name where my name was on the door, but then we were like, we need to honor every single person there and I agreed with that,” Wallace said following last weekend’s pole qualifying session. “We decided to come up with a cool decal. …It offsets from our Air Force scheme, but just a lot of people riding with us for the 500 on Sunday.”
A few days later, Wallace was optimistic that the decals and his brief record in the Daytona 500 may provide just the positive vibe to get the season off to a promising start. He finished runner-up in his Daytona 500 debut in 2018 and said he dreamed Wednesday night that he drove the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into Daytona’s Victory Lane after the 500, although those dream details were a little murky.
“I’d say if I won the race, I should remember,”’ Wallace said smiling. “We crossed the line and I’m like, ‘Yeah, we just won. Cool. We’re in the Playoffs.’
“Then I woke up.”