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Denny Hamlin picks Dale Earnhardt Jr's 2004 win as his favorite Daytona 500 memory

Stephen Samraby:Steve Samra02/14/24

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Dale Earnhardt
© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Hamlin has made some phenomenal memories at Daytona International Speedway during The Great American Race, as a three-time winner of the Daytona 500.

Aside from his wins, other memories at the track stand-out to him as well. During the latest episode of his Actions Detrimental podcast, Hamlin harkened back to one of them, when he was a guest of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for his victory in 2004.

“I mean, I would say the 2004 Daytona 500, the one that Dale Jr. won,” Hamlin revealed, asked what his favorite memory at Daytona was, aside from his own wins. “It’s just a great memory, because of how the whole weekend played out. The one where, you saw the picture on social media, where I’m in Victory Lane.

“I’m actually standing next to my future bus driver that’s been working with me now for the last ten plus years or so. So if you look just to the right of me, he was — John Atkins, he was the bus driver for DEI at the time. I was standing next to him. I don’t even think I said a word to him in Victory Lane that day, we just happened to be in the same photo.”

Continuing, Hamlin elaborated on how it all went down, with some hilarious behind-the-scenes stories of that weekend, including staying with Martin Truex Jr. in Earnhardt’s rental house, and caught in the middle between rooting for the driver who brought him down to Daytona, or Tony Stewart, his future teammate.

“That weekend, I was actually on IRacing. It was NASCAR 2003 back then. Dale Jr. was just like, ‘Hey, what’re you doing this weekend?’ I was like, ‘Not much.’ (He said) ‘Do you want to come down to Daytona?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ Drove nine-and-a-half hours down there. He was like, ‘I got a place for you to stay.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, well where do I stay?’ He was like, ‘Well, if you don’t stay with me on the bus, then we’ll just, I got a spot for you at this little rental house.’ I’m like, ‘Okay.’ Go to the rental house, and I’m staying with Martin Truex, and somebody else and somebody else, and he just basically had all of his Dirty Mo buddies in this house. It’s crazy, and that’s the true story,” Hamlin reminisced. “So I remember sitting there, and I’m going to the track, and that actual weekend I signed my deal, my developmental deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. So I remember at the end of the race, I was a guest of Dale Jr.’s, so I’m in his bus watching the race, but the day before I just signed my deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. I didn’t really feel comfortable like, hanging out with them, or piggy-backing off them.

“So it was a battle between Tony Stewart and Dale Jr. that day, and I remember thinking there’s 20 laps to go, ‘What pit box do I kind of want to hangout behind? I’ll just go to Dale Jr.’s.’ I remember, when I’m walking behind the pit boxes, I hear the crowd and I look up, and that’s when he made the move on the backstretch to pass Tony. Then yeah, I just hung out the rest of the time in Victory Lane, and carried that trophy after we did all the photo ops to the bus for him. So that was just, it was a cool memory, because I’ve never been to Daytona before. So that was a great memory for me.”

When hearing a story like that, it must be surreal for Denny Hamlin to have become the driver he is today, with three Daytona 500 wins and 51 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series. We’ll see if he can add another Daytona 500 win to his resume this weekend, and make another amazing memory that’ll live on forever.