The 2021 Daytona 500 presented a one-of-a-kind opportunity for Denny Hamlin to make NASCAR history. Hamlin nearly pulled off the first-ever three-peat, winning the event but fell short late in the race. Following the event, the veteran motorsports driver took aim at what he believed cost him the chance to capture another Daytona 500 win.
Denny Hamlin falls short of third straight Daytona 500 win
Denny Hamlin entered the 2021 Daytona 500 eyeing NASCAR history to become the first driver to win the race three years in a row.
Hamlin began the event in the 11th position but managed to work his way into the race lead. The 40-year-old led the pack for 98 of the 200 laps, including heading into the final round of green flag pitstops.
Things headed in the opposite direction after Hamlin’s pit strategy wound up putting him out of the running for the top spot. The miscue allowed Joey Logano to take the lead on lap 175 after exiting pit road.
Despite that, Hamlin pushed his way into fifth place after a massive final lap pile-up. The crash opened the opportunity for Michael McDowell to grabbed his first Cup Series win in his 358th career race.
Following the race, Hamlin didn’t hesitate to voice why he believes he lost the golden opportunity to win his fourth Daytona 500.
Denny Hamlin claims there’s another big factor that made him lose the Daytona 500
The 2021 Daytona 500 unfolded in a manner that presented Denny Hamlin a tremendous chance to capture that vaunted third straight win.
Instead, Hamlin stumbled in the final portion of the race, falling out of contention, and finished in fifth place. Following the event, Hamlin voiced that he believed that the lack of Toyota cars present in the field cost him the opportunity to win. (H/T Autosport)
“It is the first time that a lack of numbers really played a big role in the finish,” explained Hamlin. “We pitted when we did, and it was just like the Duel where we were three seconds out [front] there, and it [Daytona] is just not a place where you want to be three seconds out front.
“I don’t know what we could have done differently. Maybe [we could] back up to the #18 [of Busch] to get up to speed faster, but our fate was sealed when we got shuffled, and everyone committed to going single file until the last lap.”
Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch were the only Toyota cars left in the race at that point. Meanwhile, 23XI’s Bubba Wallace fell behind further due to taking an extra pit stop due to a vibration in his car. All these factors led to Busch and Hamlin falling into the lower end of the top 10 as the race neared its conclusion.
There is certainly some credence to Hamlin’s comments as the lack of a Toyota presence didn’t allow his team to grab a huge season-opening win. Nonetheless, he will gladly take the top-five finish as the consolation.
Focus shifts to the bigger picture
Denny Hamlin may not have had the start to the 2021 season he hoped for, but he has put himself in a solid early position.
Hamlin has been in the hunt for the NASCAR Cup Series championship in each of the last two seasons behind back-to-back fourth-place points finishes. The 40-year-old is expected to once again be in the thick of the picture to capture his first title.
The usual drivers Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott, both also garnered top-five finishes at this year’s Daytona 500. It all sets the tone for what should be another highly competitive championship chase.