Hamlin, Gibbs own SpeedWeeks headlines

February, 21, 2014
2/21/14
4:15
PM ET

Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesDenny Hamlin has already won the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel this year.
The most important part of SpeedWeeks, the three points races for the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, are still yet to come, but the past week of action at Daytona has already made an impression.

Who has already made an impact, and who in line to make even more history?

It’s Denny Hamlin’s Week
Denny Hamlin put a bright spin on a largely downer 2013 season by winning the season finale at Homestead last year, and he carried that momentum into 2014, starting by winning last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, along with his Budweiser Duel race on Thursday.

Winning both of those races in a single season is not an unusual feat. In fact, it’s now happened in three of the last four years (2013: Kevin Harvick, 2011: Kurt Busch).

What would be unusual is if he went on to win Sunday’s Daytona 500. This is the 14th time a driver has won both the Unlimited and his qualifying race in the same season. None of the previous 13 went on to win the 500 that same year.

In fact, since 2000 it’s been done five other times, and more often than not the driver has finished outside the top 35 in the Daytona 500.

Due for a Second?
The 1993 Daytona 500 was one of the most memorable in event history. Dale Jarrett won in an upset, holding off Dale Earnhardt by 0.16 seconds for his second career Cup Series win, and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing, with his father Ned cheering him on from the broadcast booth.

Twenty years later, and Joe Gibbs Racing has grown to become one of the premier NASCAR teams, but it still has just the one Daytona 500 victory.

SpeedWeeks has gone excellently for Gibbs so far, as Hamlin won the Unlimited and his Duel, and Matt Kenseth won the first Duel race.

According to Racing Resources, JGR is the first team to sweep both Duel races in the same season.

Got a Second?
The theme with many drivers' Daytona histories focuses around second place.

Terry Labonte: the last-lap wreck in the second Duel race helped him get in. It’s his 32nd Daytona 500 start, second all-time to Dave Marcis (33). His best finish? Second.

• Kurt Busch: He’s a three-time Daytona 500 runner-up. That ties him with Terry Labonte for the most second-place finishes in the Daytona 500 without a win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He’s finished second in three of the last four 500’s. His four career second-place finishes in the Daytona 500 are tied for second all-time behind Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Tony Stewart: A win in the 500 would not only give him a long-awaited victory in the Great American Race, but would make him the second driver with 20 career Daytona wins (in all major races, points and non-points). He’d be second to Dale Earnhardt (34).
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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