Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, looks at his win in the 2011 Night Race ranking near the very top of his 34 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories.
“It’s definitely a big one for us. That trophy is a special one,” said the 38-year-old driver from Chesterfield, Virginia. “It’s the same for many years. You talk about Bristol and anytime you talk to a race fan and they ask which race should I go to, it’s always the Bristol Night Race. We know as drivers we have a lot of eyes watching us at that time. It’s one of the most prestigious wins in racing.”
It has already been a banner year for Hamlin with three wins and 15 top-10 finishes in the first 23 races. He has been on an incredible hot streak of late with a fourth straight top-three finish with his Sunday runner-up at Michigan. He believes the No. 11 team will have to be reckoned at Bristol where he finished fifth in April’s Food City 500.
He said Bristol is a track that stays the same day or night.
“For the most part, we attack it the same kind of way and we’ve had the same kind of results in both races,” Hamlin said. “I’m not sure we attack it any differently. There’s just a little more prestige with the Night Race and where it’s this close to the playoffs. It should be a lot of fun.”
Often, the racing at Bristol turns physical. Hamlin recently traded sheet metal with Kevin Harvick at New Hampshire. While he bumped Harvick, he did not wreck him on the last-lap, leading to the question whether he should have spun out Harvick.
“There’s always the question. I didn’t get the outcome I wanted and would have liked to try it again,” Hamlin said. “We’re trying to win races, win a championship, that’s what it’s all about, so we give it our all. Last week, we gave it our all, we just came up a little short. But, we’re really running well and that’s what matters the most.”
That’s certainly the case with Hamlin passing NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Dale Jarrett and Fireball Roberts for 22nd place on the sport’s all-time win list with his latest two victories. Hamlin, who has won races in 13 of his 14 Cup Series seasons, doesn’t take the numbers for granted.
“Those are the names, the important people in our sport, in the history of NASCAR. I don’t think I deserve to be in the same breath as any of them to be honest. It’s that I’m with a great race team and I’ve had the opportunity to win a lot of races. Some of them I won and some I didn’t.
“Honestly, I’ve had a great career to this point and want to keep that winning tradition going. We feel like we could have a 5-6 win season pretty easily. We’re working towards that and to win the championship, we’re doing everything we can.”
He’s often referred to as the best driver in the series without a championship. He pointed out the format for winning a championship has changed multiple times over his career and under some of the other formats, he would already be a Cup Series champion.
“We have a lot of accolades. It’s not a title like to have, but it’s a term of endearment that you’re the best who doesn’t have a title,” he said. “There’s a lot of great drivers without one, Mark Martin being one of them. If you can be mentioned where those guys are, you’re in pretty good shape.”