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Denny Hamlin had a chance to make history in the 2021 Daytona 500.
A victory in The Great American Race would have given the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota an unprecedented three straight. Hamlin ran well, sweeping the first two stages, but he was in fifth place when a last-lap caution made a winner of opportunistic Michael McDowell.
As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Sunday‘s Dixie Vodka 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Hamlin has a shot at another record. With three victories at the 1.5-mile track, he is tied with Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart for most wins at the venue, which has hosted Cup events since 1999.
Boosting his chances, Hamlin expects the season‘s first race on an intermediate speedway to run closer to last year‘s form than either the Daytona 500 or the Daytona Road Course event, both of which produced first-time winners (McDowell and Christopher Bell). Kevin Harvick led the series with nine Cup victories last year, followed by Hamlin with seven.
“I think it will be more status quo on where we were last year,” Hamlin said. “That doesn‘t mean me and Kevin, since it‘s a mile-and-a-half, that we are going to dominate. With the mid-tier teams, this is where the resources that they don‘t have will come into factor a little bit more.
“I don‘t think I would call the 20 car (Bell) mid-tier, and I don‘t think I would call the 34 (McDowell) a shock, because we were at a superspeedway. I think the winners list is like, ‘Oh wow, where (are) our superstars?‘ But we are about to get into a chunk of the season where you are going to start to see some of your normal winners in the bracket.”
Also arguing in Hamlin‘s favor is his starting spot. With fifth- and third-place finishes, paired with his strength in the stages of the first two races, Hamlin leads the series standings and will start from the pole at Miami. That‘s exactly where Hamlin started last year, when he collected his third win at the track.
In fact, seven of the winners in 22 Homestead-Miami Cup races have started from the front row, three from the pole and four from the second spot. That‘s good news for Joey Logano, whose victory at Homestead in 2018 locked up the series championship. Logano starts second on the grid Sunday.
Nor can you ignore the “rim riders” who have had success running the wall at the 1.5-mile track. Tyler Reddick finished fourth at Miami last year after claiming back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series titles by winning at the track. Kyle Larson, notorious for running the wall, has three top-five finishes in seven starts there.