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Denny Hamlin Expects Final Regular Season NASCAR Race To Be a "Crash Fest"
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver makes a bold prediction ahead of the final Cup Series race of the season, and it’s not pretty.
The final NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2023 season will be at Daytona International Speedway Saturday, August 26, and it’s shaping up to be a doozy. For starters, drivers race in tight packs there, and the slightest of aerodynamic drafts can create imbalances that feel more like tidal waves than a gentle breeze. Just look at last year’s massive wreck in which Austin Dillon's car was literally the only one left unscathed in the pileup. There’s a natural intensity at Daytona that is unlike any other track in the Cup Series circuit.
But the track alone and its history of ruthlessly turning millions of dollars worth of automotive innovation into scrap metal isn't the only reason why Daytona may be a powder keg.
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Only one of 16 coveted Cup Series playoff spots remains up for grabs and drivers who haven’t won a race (which automatically clinches a postseason berth) will be going full throttle from the jump at Daytona, and one wrong move or a little too much aggression could result in some epic wrecks. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin discussed that specific element on his Actions Detrimental podcast.
“Superspeedway racing is different than it used to be,” Hamlin stated on the podcast. “We've talked about this a billion times. Everyone's going to try and go right from lap one. I do think that this [Daytona] is going to be a, just an absolute crash fest. I think that the pushes are going to get too extreme."
While Hamlin is through to the playoffs, others are desperately trying to punch their ticket, including 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, and Bubba Wallace, who drives for 23XI Racing, the outfit jointly owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan. Based on accumulated point totals, Wallace is in good shape to qualify, provided there isn't a newly minted race winner who nabs the automatic qualification. But the potential for chaos on the track is high.
“I just think that it’s always a crash fest when you see the checkered flag fall at the summer Daytona race,” reiterated Hamlin on the podcast. “There are very few cars in the picture.”
While the physical temperature of the track could portend unforeseen issues, at the end of the day, Hamlin notes that the action on the track is going to all come down to drivers and their level of aggressiveness.
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“The track is gonna be hot for most of the race,” added Hamlin. “Even though it’s a night race, that heat carries in it. So, what’s gonna happen is the push drafts — the people are going to continue to be pushing harder and harder. ... We’ll be running two-by-two, and the people fifth and sixth in line who feel like they need to go somewhere — they can’t win the race from there. ... Like you can’t win from there, so they’re gonna keep pushing their line until the wrecks happen, and then they hope to make it through.”
As Hamlin notes, it could get ugly as the leaders try to block out in front and maintain position while drivers toward the back of the field attempt riskier maneuvers as they jockey to move up.
“So, the urgency is gonna come from back in the pack, or it’s gonna come from third place, trying to push first place past and let them clear, so they can switch lanes,” continued Hamlin.
“It’s gonna be a lot of wrecks, so you gotta survive.”