The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota says his win in the 2011 night race ranks near the very top of his 34 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories.
“It’s definitely a big one for us. That trophy is a special one,” said the 38-year-old driver from Chesterfield, Virginia. “It’s the same for many years. You talk about Bristol and anytime you talk to a race fan and they ask which race should I go to, it’s always the Bristol night race. We know as drivers we have a lot of eyes watching us at that time. It’s one of the most prestigious wins in racing.”
Hamlin’s already had a banner year with three wins and 15 top-10 finishes in the 23 races. He has been on an incredible hot streak that includes a fourth straight top-three finish with his runner-up showing at Michigan, and he considers his team one to reckon with at Bristol.
He said the Bristol track stays the same day or night.
“For the most part, we attack it the same kind of way and we’ve had the same kind of results in both races,” said Hamlin, who was fifth in April’s Food City 500. “I’m not sure we attack it any differently. There’s just a little more prestige with the night race and where it’s this close to the playoffs. It should be a lot of fun.”
Racing at Bristol often turns physical and recently at New Hampshire, Hamlin traded sheet metal with Kevin Harvick. While he bumped Harvick, he didn’t wreck him on the last lap — leaving the question of whether he should have spun out Harvick.
“There’s always the question. I didn’t get the outcome I wanted and would have liked to try it again,” Hamlin said. “We’re trying to win races, win a championship, that’s what it’s all about, so we give it our all. Last week, we gave it our all, we just came up a little short. But we’re really running well and that’s what matters the most.”
Hamlin has wins in 13 of his 14 Cup seasons, and his latest two victories moved him past NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Dale Jarrett and Fireball Roberts for 22nd place on the sport’s all-time win list.
“Those are the names, the important people in our sport, in the history of NASCAR. I don’t think I deserve to be in the same breath as any of them, to be honest,” Hamlin said. “It’s that I’m with a great race team and I’ve had the opportunity to win a lot of races. Some of them I won and some I didn’t.
“Honestly, I’ve had a great career to this point and want to keep that winning tradition going. We feel like we could have a five-, six-win season pretty easily. We’re working towards that and to win the championship, we’re doing everything we can.”
Hamlin is often referred to as the best driver in the series without a title. He noted that the format for winning a championship has changed multiple times over his career and under some of the others, he would already be a champion.
“We have a lot of accolades. It’s not a title I like to have, but it’s a term of endearment that you’re the best who doesn’t have a title,” he said. “There’s a lot of great drivers without one, Mark Martin being one of them. If you can be mentioned where those guys are, you’re in pretty good shape.”