DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – Winning the Daytona 500 provides plenty of perks for Nascar drivers, but keeping the race-winning car is not one of them.
Denny Hamlin’s number 11 crossed the finish line first last year and never left Daytona. The car is untouched and unwashed.
“It is hard to let it go, especially as good as the race car was,” said Hamlin. “Obviously, you saw in that last lap, we were able to gain five positions and win that race by just a few inches.”
Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. by one-hundredth of a second, the smallest margin of victory in Daytona history.
“…it took me 11 tries to win the Dayona 500 and a lot of great drivers have never won that race,” said Hamlin. “It’s an honor to be a Daytona 500 champion. You’re in a very elite status of drivers. It’s worthy of a tattoo, I’m just not necessarily a tattoo guy.”
Hamlin called that close margin a career changer.
“I’d hate to be on the other end of it, for sure, because you never know when your next opportunity to win one as close as that was. I like winning any Daytona 500, but I always like being the winner of the closest one in history.”
Only three drivers in history have been back-to-back winners on the track. The last to do so was Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995.
On Sunday, Hamlin hopes to make Daytona history again.
“Going in there as a Daytona 500 champion, you know it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said. “For myself, I put more pressure on myself to go out there and do it again.
I’d like to make sure I roll one car out of the Daytona 500 museum and roll the next one in.”
Last year’s Daytona win was the first of three victories in 2016 for Hamlin, nearly 30 now in his career.