NASCAR returns Tuesday night, when the roar of the engines will announce to racing fans everywhere that the beginning of the end of winter is upon us.
That roar will be a little more humble this year, though.
For the first time, the season-opening Busch Clash exhibition will be run on the road course at Daytona International Speedway, instead of the same 2 1/2-mile oval where the Daytona 500 is run. Most drivers have toed the company line of supporting the move, but Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin isn’t one of them.
“You aren’t,” Hamlin replied. “Some ideas are meant to stay ideas.”
Hamlin’s affinity for the oval isn’t surprising. He’s a three-time Daytona 500 winner and is shooting for his third consecutive victory in the race Sunday. Although the Clash isn’t a points-paying race, it does come with a nice check and traditionally is viewed as a tune-up to the real race.
The 40-year-old Chesterfield, Va., native has never been one to hide his feelings, but he has extra reason to be outspoken this year.
Hamlin actually will have two cars on the track this season, with the No. 23 Toyota that he co-owns with Michael Jordan joining the No. 11 Toyota he pilots. That gives him a vested interest in making sure NASCAR hears his opinion not only as a driver, but as a team owner, as well.
If that sounds like a conflict of interest, rest assured that Hamlin’s loyalties to Bubba Wallace and the 23XI car will be forgotten as soon as he gets behind the wheel. JGR’s crop of drivers has never been shy about racing aggressively or even making hard contact with their teammates, so it’s unlikely Hamlin will give the No. 23 any leeway just because his name is on the stationary.