Denny Hamlin waits on the grid prior to the 2023 Daytona 500
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"I Think We Messed Up": Denny Hamlin Says Pit Strategy Cost Him Daytona 500 Win

The importance of a manufacturer-based strategy may be lost on the casual racing fan, but it takes more than just a driver and his pit crew working in sync to rack up a solid finish in the Cup Series. It's pivotal for drivers sporting the same car manufacturer to work together to maintain top position during a Cup race, particularly on superspeedways where drafting is pretty much a necessary technique. To maximize this strategy, simply put, the Chevys hang around each other on the track, Fords stay with Fords, and Toyotas stay with Toyotas.

While Denny Hamlin wasn't able to capitalize on that strategy during this year's Daytona 500, he did notice that Ricky Stenhouse Jr., on his way to winning his first running of the "Great American Race," stuck with his group of Chevys when it mattered most and, when the time was right, he broke away from the group to score his third career Cup win. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver and 23XI Racing co-owner had to give props where props was due.

"Ricky was 20th when the [final] green flag stops started, so not a good spot," Hamlin said during an episode of Actions Detrimental with Denny Hamlin, his podcast on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Media network. "But he executed really well, he moved himself up the Chevy line by getting into and off pit road well, and the Chevys ran longer, so they didn't need as much fuel to the finish, and they pitted with the bulk of cars so they linked up quicker."

"Chevy won the strategy game, in my opinion."

On the flip side, Hamlin admitted that his plan of staying close to JGR teammate and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. fizzled out late in the race. Here's how: Because Truex needed less fuel than Hamlin did during their final pit stop with 23 laps to go, he exited the pits before Hamlin. They were never ever to link back up after that, eliminating the possibility for a much-needed late-night draft. While Hamlin led for six laps at Daytona International Speedway, he ultimately placed 17th at the Daytona 500. Truex placed 15th.

"This race is just becoming more and more unpredictable every single year," Hamlin said. "It's so hard to pass in these Next Gen cars on superspeedways, the racing was two-by-two, so you just can't go to the back of the pack at any point and come back, especially towards the end of the race."

"I came out from the last pitstop in 18th and I basically told Chris [Gabehart, crew chief] 'we're f***ed' — I had nowhere to go. [Before that] I thought I was in the position I needed to be, I was seventh and first non-Ford. So the last pitstop cycle happens and we just...I think we messed up. A handful of Fords pitted, literally five, and then me and Truex pitted by ourselves. I think we f***ed up."

"Truex had seven more laps of fuel than I did, so let's say that's a second and a half less than I need to pack my fuel cell full to get to the end. He came in behind me and we had to take a certain amount of fuel, let's say it was five seconds of fuel."

"Truex only needed probably three seconds of fuel, so he comes off pit road two seconds ahead of me, and the time we lost not being bumper to bumper leaving the pit road, that is another two seconds of detriment — because we're drafting as soon as we leave pit road. You can lose two seconds around that out-lap if you're not bumper to bumper.

"Add that to the two seconds lost on pit lane, that took me from seventh or eighth to basically last. I was screwed at that point. That was a key, key moment."

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