DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin has offered his support to fellow Toyota driver and golf buddy Michael Waltrip, as Waltrip gears up for his final start in The Great American Race on Sunday afternoon.
Hamlin said Sunday morning prior to the start of FOX’s broadcast coverage of the 59th annual Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) that his hope is for Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, to go out with a chance to win in his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
“What I hope the most for Michael is that he is as competitive in this race as he’s been for his entire career,” Hamlin said. “He’s always been competitive in every restrictor plate race that he’s ever been in, and for me, I hope he goes out the same way that he has been for 30 years, and that’s competitive and with a chance to win.”
Waltrip and Hamlin are stablemates in the Toyota camp, and it’s possible that if circumstances form properly, that the duo may work together in the final laps of Sunday’s race to have a shot at victory.
“I won’t lie, I’d love to be the guy that gives him the push for his last win,” Hamlin smiled. “That’d be cool.”
But the defending Daytona 500 winner then said jokingly that it does get to him just a bit that Waltrip has multiple Daytona 500 wins, and he doesn’t … yet.
“That’d be the only negative part!” Hamlin laughed of Waltrip potentially winning a third 500 trophy. “When I talk about it, all the time people ask me, ‘What motivates you to win it again?’ and I tell them … my buddy has two and he keeps reminding me!”
For his career in NASCAR’s Super Bowl, Waltrip has wins in both 2001 and 2003, part of a record that includes four top-fives and nine top-10s in his prior 29 starts.
While his first win was marred by the death of his then-team owner Dale Earnhardt in turn four on the final lap of the 2001 event, Waltrip returned two years later and dominated the rain-shortened 2003 edition to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy for the second time.
And what would a third 500 win mean for the now-FOX analyst, back for one final ride?
“The two trophies are amazing,” Waltrip said simply. “A third would be unthinkable.”
But Waltrip did add that if he isn’t the one celebrating at the end of the day, he wants his long-time friend to be the one there instead.
“If I can’t get another win, I hope that Denny is the guy that is the next to get his second,” he said. “That would mean a lot to me.”
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Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
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