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Hamlin gains confidence from Daytona finish


AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Denny Hamlin spent large portions of the Daytona 500 without being able to communicate with his spotter, yet still found a way to finish second to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

So if he had a spotter, could Hamlin have won? Hamlin isn’t sure.

“We only got to second on the last lap. If I had some more time to work over the 88 (Earnhardt), obviously it would help, but who knows,” Hamlin said from Phoenix International Raceway.

“He had one of the top-three best cars of the weekend so it would’ve been very tough. We saw really a lot of guys made their charge at him and had full communication and couldn’t get by him. Not sure what we could have done.”

The good news for Hamlin is that it was a good start to the season after a disappointing 2013.

Hamlin, who finished second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2010, had to sit out five races last season with a fractured vertebra and drove through the pain for the final six months. He won the final race of the season at Homestead, but had already failed to make the Chase field for the first time in his career.

Hamlin got this season off to a great start, winning the exhibition Sprint Unlimited and the second of two 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500. That gave him a chance to become the first driver at Daytona International Speedway to sweep Speedweeks, but came up just short thanks, in part, to not having a spotter to guide him along.

“I didn’t know who was coming or what line was working or anything,” Hamlin said. “You hate to give excuses and really I’m proud to finish second in the 500 – that’s the best finish we’ve finished ever. Those guys, it would have been hard to beat them no matter what circumstances would have come up.”