DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin became a spectator for the first time in his career at “The Great American Race.”
Hamlin crashed Sunday in NASCAR’s premier event, his first DNF in 17 starts in the season opener.
Hamlin was overtaken by an eight-car scrum near the end of the first stage. Brad Keselowski was aggressively pushing Harrison Burton and eventually knocked the rookie out of control and turned sideways to Kyle Busch and William Byron. Burton’s car flipped onto its roof before being hit again and flipping over on its tires.
“I’ve hit a lot harder before, that’s for sure,” Burton said. “It’s just a shame. I don’t know if it was too much [of a push]. I just think maybe it was in the wrong place.”
Hamlin, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman had nowhere to go and found themselves in deep trouble. Hamlin, Chastain, Burton and Byron suffered enough damage to their cars to be knocked out before the 100 lap mark.
“We were kind of locked in where I noticed something was going to happen, but I was locked in, I was behind a teammate and I wanted to try to help,” Hamlin said. “Again, an overly aggressive push right there when they weren’t aligned and in control.”
It was the first time Hamlin hadn’t raced at the end of a Daytona 500, an impressive streak considering how often cars crash into the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
Hamlin won the race in 2016, 2019 and 2020. He was trying to join Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty as the only riders to have won the 500 at least four times.
But Hamlin found himself a spectator at Daytona for the first time on Sunday. He stayed to watch his newly expanded team, 23XI Racing, which he created with NBA legend Michael Jordan. Hamlin and Jordan hired Kurt Busch to join Bubba Wallace on the team. Jordan watched the race.