DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Denny Hamlin was on such a roll. He won the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday, his 150-mile heat in the Budweiser Duel on Thursday, and even NASCAR’s golf outing on Friday. When he did a TV interview during the nearly 6½-hour rain delay of Sunday’s Daytona 500, Hamlin proved how everything was going his way when he sank a lefthanded hook shot.
“Everything’s going in,’’ he smiled.
But Hamlin was stymied from becoming the first driver to sweep Speedweeks, instead becoming the 13th driver to come up short in the Daytona 500 when he finished runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
When the race resumed, Hamlin was hamstrung by a malfunctioning radio that left him “running blind’’ without a spotter for the first 50 laps and last 15-20 laps.
“I’m 50/50 on whether I’m [ticked] or I’m happy, I don’t know,’’ he said. “Any other year, I probably would have been like jumping up and down. We can hardly finish these races, much less have a shot at a victory. 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.
“You know, I’ll be happy tomorrow, I think. But, right now, a little disappointed.’’
Titan of industry
Air Titan, NASCAR’s sophisticated track-drying system, was on full display after thunderstorms halted the race with just 38 of 200 laps completed.
“When fans come to the racetrack, they’ve invested a significant amount of time and money to come to a race,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president of racing operations, a year ago when Air Titan was rolled out for the Daytona 500. “Understanding now that they may have the opportunity to see that race happen that day we think is huge for the industry.”
Air Titan feeds compressed air at a high rate of speed through a hose to a module, which blows narrow, highly-pressurized sheets over the race surface, sweeping the moisture down onto the apron where it is absorbed by a air vacuum truck. Five jet dryers follow Air Titan and move at 3-5 miles per hour and condition the track.
“We know that when a red flag comes out, that’s a challenge,’’ O’Donnell said. “And so speeding up any downtime we think is a win-win for the entire industry, the tracks, the drivers, the race teams, the fans.’’
No time to waste
The threat of weather seemed to intensify the racing once it resumed. The race was marred by seven cautions for 39 laps, including four multicar melees. “Everybody kept telling me over the radio, ‘There’s more rain coming, there’s more rain coming,’ ’’ Brad Keselowski said. “I think everyone raced a harder 500-mile race. I don’t know what you guys saw, but I never saw a lull in the action from where I was sitting. That had to be the hardest 500 race ever, probably one of the best.” . . . Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, and Bobby Labonte dropped to the rear of the field because of uanapproved engine changes that were made after their Hendrick-built engines blew up in last Saturday’s pre-qualifying practice session. Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson, Michael Waltrip, and outside pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. were forced to start backups and go to the rear of the field. Truex wound up being the first driver to drop out when his engine blew after 30 laps.