DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Second-place finishers at Daytona often lament what could have been had a few breaks fallen their way. But Denny Hamlin's reason for a runner-up finish to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Sunday's Daytona 500 may deserve more empathy than usual.
Hamlin started Sunday's race as a consensus favorite to score his first Daytona 500 win and the first for Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His No. 11 had turned heads throughout Daytona's Speedweeks, winning the exhibition Sprint Unlimited the week before and his qualifying race on Thursday.
His strength showed, too, as the race started under warm conditions Sunday afternoon and he led 11 of the race's first 38 laps. But then the rains came, delaying the race for more than six hours and potentially causing a problem in Hamlin's car that the team couldn't have known about it as they prepared the car to race again Sunday night.
Hamlin's in-car radio got wet, he said, leading to severe communications problems with his crew and spotter that developed just after the green flag returned.
"It's hard to win a superspeedway race when you don't know when runs are coming, when you have to time when your passes and everything, especially when you're trying to guard against causing a wreck, knowing you got radio silence," Hamlin said.
The problems were intermittent, Hamlin said. The radio was nearly useless for the first 50 laps of the post-rain run, but then came alive for the next 60-70 laps, leading Hamlin to believe that the radios had dried and fixed themselves. But with 15 laps to go, the problems returned.
Hamlin restarted seventh during the race's final restart with two laps to go, and said he could have desperately used help from his spotter above the track. Still, Hamlin somehow managed to work up to second and had the race's last, best shot to overcome Earnhardt at the finish.
"I definitely could have used him at the end," Hamlin said. "I'm trying to look up at the scoreboard, trying to figure out how many laps are left. Not knowing anything that's going - you start to appreciate what those guys do up there."
Hamlin also felt that his team's dominance earlier in the week had waned as the competition seemed to catch up.
"We just weren't as good as the week progressed," Hamlin said. "Maybe we were the same, but I thought the competition got a little better. But definitely we weren't able to pass as easily as we were earlier in the week for whatever reason."
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