Hamlin insists he didn't let retiring Stewart win in Sonoma
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Denny Hamlin insists he didn't let retiring NASCAR star Tony Stewart win last week at Sonoma Raceway.
Asked about his runner-up finish at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, Hamlin made it clear that his mistake was the main reason Stewart got by him in the final turn Sunday.
Stewart passed Hamlin on the inside going into tricky Turn 11 and held on to break an 84-race winless streak.
''I made a mistake and didn't execute good,'' Hamlin said. ''Ultimately, I made a mistake and thought we would maybe drag race to the line because we were in the center of the corner side by side and I thought this could be good. Once I saw him steer left, I knew it was over with.
''My biggest mistake I feel like is not recognizing the gap I had behind me. … I still needed to execute to make him make the decision. Instead I made the decision for him.''
Hamlin took the lead from Stewart in the seventh turn on the road course. But he locked up the wheels and got wide four turns later, and Stewart took advantage.
The last-lap pass had some questioning whether Hamlin intentionally allowed Stewart to get a much-needed victory in his final season, a win that likely will allow the three-time NASCAR champion to compete for another Sprint Cup title.
''In my defense, which I should still not make mistakes, is that I've never been in that position before,'' Hamlin said.
''I've not been that competitive on road courses and so I didn't know the proper defensive move going into that last corner. I'd love to have that situation back again, but I really just didn't know the proper move.''
Hamlin, who used to be teammates with Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing, congratulated Stewart on the track and again in victory lane. He later apologized to his team.
Despite the late slip-up, Hamlin said his best road-course finish gives him confidence going forward at those tracks.
''When I go back to road courses I know that I can win these races,'' he said. ''And really, going into Sonoma, I didn't go there with a whole lot of aspirations of winning that race. I just haven't been that great on them. I've always struggled for speed.
''It's not been because of my cars – it's been because of me – but now I feel like completely the cycle is possible and I'll get it before my career is over for sure.''
Hamlin picked up the biggest victory of his career in February, winning the season-opening Daytona 500. Now, he's trying to become the sixth driver to sweep both races at Daytona in the same season.
Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. in the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.
''It's definitely been a good year no matter what when you win a race like that,'' Hamlin said.
''But it's cool to come back here. … You're back in victory lane where you were and definitely brings back some good memories for sure. Really this track has been very good to me throughout my career. We hope to complete the sweep this weekend.''