DAYTONA BEACH , Fla. Denny Hamlin found himself a little hamstrung in the Daytona 500.
Hamlin, who began Speedweeks with victories in the Sprint Unlimited and in one of the Budweiser Duel qualifying races, ran into trouble after the nearly 6 1/2 hour rain delay that interrupted Sunday night’s Sprint Cup Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Hamlin had intermittent radio communication with his spotter; at times his radio went completely dead.
Drivers rely on spotters to help navigate traffic on the track, and it’s particularly important in the close quarters of restrictor-plate racing.
Without reliable assistance from above, Hamlin was left largely on his own to mange the two- and three-wide moves necessary to compete for the win. He came away with a runner-up finish but felt he may have missed an opportunity.
“Any other year I probably would have been like jumping up and down. It seems we can hardly finish these races, much less have a shot at a victory,” said Hamlin, who missed four races last season with a back injury.
“I felt like our car wasn’t as strong as the week progressed. The competition definitely caught up, for sure. Then, honestly, me not being able to drive to my ability because I was being conservative, trying to spot for myself, that’s not a way to race.”
With the weather remaining an uncertainty, Hamlin also couldn’t risk making a lengthy pit stop for repairs.
“Track position was so important, I couldn’t come in for a radio change when it went totally dead,” he said.
Still, a strong performance to start the season should bode well for Hamlin, who eagerly awaits being able to discard the memories of what he has repeatedly called the worst season of his career.
“It puts us in a good spot. Obviously, you’re going to need to win to be in the Chase, or if you keep doing this,” he said.
“Unless there’s 16 race winners (in the first 26 races) – it’s been a long time since that – I don’t mind keeping myself up top in a safe position.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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