NASCAR Daytona 500 Auto Racing

Denny Hamlin celebrates in front of the grandstands after winning the Daytona 500 last season. Hamlin has won the ‘Great American Race’ two years in a row.

Denny Hamlin is looking at history.

The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing is looking to become the first driver ever to score three straight Daytona 500 victories.

Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) are the only drivers besides Hamlin to have won back-to-back Daytona 500s.

With his 2020 victory, Hamlin joined Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon with three career 500 victories. Only Petty with seven and Yarborough with four have more wins in the “Great American Race.”

The odds are stacked against Hamlin winning a third straight 500 as the driver acknowledged during the NASCAR virtual media days.

“It’s harder than it ever has been. I mean, go back and watch races from 2004, 2005, like there were just five or six superior cars that could pull away from the pack or they just were better,” Hamlin said. “Cars were strung out more, you didn’t have as much attrition as what you have now. It is truly harder to win now because the field is closer.

“The chances of you getting in wrecks are higher and everyone’s car is so close. It’s very, very difficult and it is a skill game, but sometimes you get unlucky in that skill game, A lot of guys that are very, very good on the superspeedways that just have been very, very unlucky in the last few years. We’ve been fortunate, we’ve been on the other side of it.”

Hamlin has been excellent at putting himself in the right position to take advantage like last season when Ryan Newman had a spectacular crash after contact from Ryan Blaney coming to the finish line.

CHALLENGE FOR CHASE

While Hamlin would love to become the first three-peat winner of the 500, Chase Elliott is trying to become the first defending Cup Series champion to win the 500 in 21 years.

Jarrett was the last driver to win the championship and then kick off the following season with a 500 victory in 2000. Gordon did the same the previous season. With the exception of Joey Logano finishing fourth in 2019, defending series champions haven’t fared well the last few 500s.

Kyle Busch blew an engine and finished 34th in last year’s 500. Martin Truex Jr. was 18th in the 2018 race, and Jimmie Johnson was 34th in 2017 after getting involved in a multi-car crash.

Elliott is coming off his best finish on the Daytona oval, runner-up to teammate William Byron in the 2020 Coke Zero 400. Despite three poles, Elliott’s best finish was 14th in nine previous starts.

BUSCH WINLESS IN 500

Kyle Busch, winner of Tuesday’s Busch Clash, is still looking for his first Daytona 500 victory. His best finish is second to his teammate Hamlin in the 2019 race. Busch, 0-for-15 in the 500, has only one official win in 31 Daytona starts, coming in the 2008 Coke Zero 400.

Busch has nine finishes outside the top 30 on the Daytona oval, 34th and 33rd in races last season. His average finish is 19.4, making Daytona statistically his worst track on the circuit.

Other series champions still looking for their first 500 victory include Brad Keselowski who has just three top-five finishes in 23 Daytona starts. He has one win at Daytona in the 2016 Coke Zero 400, but has finished outside the top 10 in six of his last seven Daytona races. Making it a little puzzling is Keselowski’s success at the other restrictor-plate track at Talladega, where he has five victories.

Martin Truex Jr. is winless in 31 Daytona starts, although he was runner-up to Hamlin in the closest Daytona 500 finish in history in 2016.

WINNERS IN THE FIELD

Besides Hamlin, other Daytona 500 winners in the 2021 field include Austin Dillon (2018), Kurt Busch (2017), Joey Logano (2015), Ryan Newman (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007) and Derrike Cope (1990).

BRISTOL DRAGWAY RELEASES SCHEDULE

Bristol Dragway released its schedule Tuesday with the exception of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals which track officials and the sanctioning body are in continuing discussions.

Some of the big events include the return of the Bristol Chevy Show on Aug. 5-8 and the Street Car Takeover, a lifestyle event on April 30 and May 1.

The DER Bracket Series for local racers returns for a 12th season with six weekend dates starting May 14-16 and the last race scheduled for Sept. 24-26.

Those wanting to test out their own vehicles have the opportunity five dates with the Thunder Valley Street Fights starting April 17.

Big-money events like BTE World Footbrake Challenge on July 1-4 and the Sparco Fall Fling from Sept. 28 through Oct. 3 are on the schedule as well.