Denny Hamlin kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with a sixth-place finish in the “Clash at Daytona” exhibition race Tuesday night. Hamlin looked sharp on the Daytona International Speedway road-course event, leading 21 of the 35 laps, but couldn’t push his way back to the front after a late-race pit stop. Hamlin started the Clash in third by virtue of random draw but didn’t stay there long once the green flag flew. The #11 Toyota passed the top two before the first lap was complete and stayed there for the first nine circuits. Despite a loose-handling car for part of the 126-mile race, Hamlin stayed in or near the front for most of the event. When the caution flag flew with eight laps to go, crew chief Chris Gabehart called Hamlin to pit road for some needed tires and fuel. After restarting 10th, Hamlin was able to climb four more spots in the remaining laps to finish sixth.
Daytona Outlook: The 2021 NASCAR season kicks off its regular season this Sunday with the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Returning once again as the defending race champion, Hamlin will look to secure his fourth career and third straight win of the 500-miler in the 63rd running of The Great American Race. Hamlin and the FedEx Racing team will first participate in Thursday’s qualifying “Duel” races, which will determine the full starting grid for Sunday’s main event. Wednesday night’s time trials determined that Hamlin will race in Duel 1.
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Laps Led: 530
Avg. Start: 16.4
Avg. Finish: 16.3
Hamlin Conversation – Daytona:
How did it feel to be back in the car and on the track during the Clash?
“It was great to be back in the car. We had a really good FedEx Camry and led a lot of laps. Now we turn our attention to the oval, where we’ve obviously had a lot of success. We have a special FedEx ‘Where Now Meets Next’ paint scheme for the 500, showing off a new look for FedEx, and I think it would look really good in Victory Lane, celebrating three in a row.”
Do you feel any pressure going for the three-peat?
“Honestly, I never would’ve guessed we’d even be in this position if you’d asked me five years ago. So, it’s truly an honor to be defending the champion’s title and to be going for a fourth win and a third straight. We bring fast cars every week, so we just need to execute the plan, and a little luck never hurts, too. It would be a great thrill to get the three-peat and make history with FedEx and JGR.”
FedEx Office – Closest to Daytona International Speedway: 2274 W International Speedway, Daytona Beach (386) 323-7840