Gander Outdoor Truck Series

Hammack: Daytona Speedweeks, My Thoughts

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For the eleventh time in the last thirteen years I made “the February pilgrimage to Mecca” for, what is arguably, the best damn racing in the free world!  And again for the eleventh time in thirteen years I was not disappointed one bit.

As a teaser I witnessed some very good close, tight, and aggressive racing in both of the Can Am Duels on Thursday evening.  In the opening race, Can Am Duel #1, it was most definitely the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Show, leading 43 of the 60 laps.  Junior was the class of the field almost from the drop of the green flag.  He “allowed” the polesitter, and team mate William Clyde Elliott, Jr. (you might know him better as Chase Elliott), to lead the first couple of laps before Dale Jr. “let the big dog eat”!  I, for one, thought this race foretold who the winner would be in the Daytona 500.  Earnhardt, Jr. was just so strong and so dominate, how could anyone have a stronger horse for Sunday?

In Can Am Duel #2, the strong car throughout the race was the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of  Kyle Busch.  the 2015 Sprint Cup champ lead 35 laps, almost as many as Junior did in the first race.  So the stage was set for, what I considered, a classic battle between Kyle and Dale Jr. for the Sunday feature event of Speedweeks.

I always look forward to, what I consider the best bang for the buck race, the Camping World Truck Series race.  I will enumerate why I like this race.  Simply put it is a night race, the series spotlights the up-and-coming young guns trying to make a name for themselves, it is a short action packed race, the sparks fly from underneath those ground pounding vehicles, and it is a take no prisoner 100 lap race.

I was not let down in my expectations Friday night.  There were ten different leaders in this no holds barred sprint race, which made you sit on the very edge of your seat for the entire duration.  In the end it was not one one of the young guns who was hoisting the trophy.  No my friends, the winner of the race was no stranger to the podium at Daytona at all.  The winner was an old salty veteran, who moved to to Gallagher Motorsports for 2016, Johnny Sauter.

It was an impressive win for both Sauter and Gallagher Motorsprts at Daytona.

On Saturday it was time for the XFINITY boys to show off their stuff.  There are a number of good young drivers in this series as well.  Names like 2015 CWTS champ Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Ty Dillon just to name a few. Like the CWTS, these races are where names become recognizable to the NASCAR race fan. However, there are a few of the Sprint Cup drivers who make occasional appearances in these races on Saturdays to sharpen their racing skills, names like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano.

For most of the race it was “the double dippers” of Kahne and Logano who were dominating the race.  Logano led for 40 laps of the 120 lap race and Kahne led for 30 laps.  It surely looked like one of these two Sprint Cup stars was going to take home the hardware Saturday.  However there was a dramatic change in the latter stages of the race Saturday afternoon when the winds of change began to blow at Daytona.

The finish of Saturday’s Powershares QQQ 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway left winner, Chase Elliott, out of gas on the cool-down lap and runner-up, Joey Logano, pounding his steering wheel in frustration.

But it was the high-speed chess game seconds before the first and second-place cars crossed the finish line that made all the difference!  The entire crowd went wild when the results flashed up on the leader board that Chase Elliott had won the race!

Now as the Sun rose on Sunday morning for the coup de grace, the Daytona 500, there was an air of anticipation amongst the fans as the entered the brand new “Sports Stadium” complex that ISC spent $400 million on the makeover.

Denny Hamlin earned his first Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race’s storied 58-year history, pushing his No. 11 FedEx Toyota ahead of Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota at the finish line by ten-hundreds of a second (0.010) – a half-foot winning difference in NASCAR’s most celebrated event.

The two cars crossed the finish line simultaneously, and it wasn’t until NASCAR made the official call and television replayed the finish before most people — in the pits and the grandstands — were certain who had won.  It was  the 34 year old Chesterfield, VA native, Hamlin, gathering up all the chips and going to the cashier’s window!

Now to answer the question that I posed earlier about who could have a stronger horse in the sweepstakes race, we found out that on Sunday the answer was Denny Hamlin!

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About Leon Hammack

Leon Hammack is a retired airline pilot and avid race fan. Leon is a contributing writer and photographer for all three of NASCAR's touring series, as well as sprint car and midget racing. A native of Fresno, CA now wintering in Yuma, AZ., additionally, he spends the summer months near Coos Bay, OR. You may contact Leon on Twitter @captainblowdri

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