Denny Hamlin checked the first box of the Coca-Cola 600 race weekend by winning the pole on Saturday night. But the pole will not mean as much to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver as if he were to pull into victory lane on Sunday night.
“The long relationship I’ve had with Coca-Cola – 17 or 18 years now of being a part of the Coke family – and not winning this race has been pretty frustrating,” Hamlin said. “Certainly [on] the resume, this is the top of the list by far. The team knows how badly I want it, and anytime we can start with a head start on the field like we will that’s a good thing.”
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is Hamlin’s resume’s missing crown jewel race. Hamlin is already a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a three-time Southern 500 winner at Darlington Raceway.
For many years NASCAR was thought to have four crown jewel races depending on who was asked: the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, Indianapolis, and the Southern 500 at Darlington. But that list has been cut to three, with the traditional Indianapolis oval race being pushed aside for the road course.
Hamlin never won the Brickyard, although he came close. Most notably was in 2020 when he blew a tire from the race lead with seven laps to go.
Charlotte and the Coca-Cola 600 is in the same category.
“Anytime that you get compared to [other drivers], which you usually do, they talk about what have you won?” Hamlin said. “Daytona 500s, Southern 500s, Coke 600s, the Brickyard – they all matter.”
A runner-up in 2012 is Hamlin’s best result in the Coca-Cola 600 in 16 starts. Hamlin has led 169 laps in those races.
“I’ve been plenty capable of winning this race multiple times, but things happen: someone beats you on fuel mileage, or I run out of gas on the final lap,” Hamlin said. “I’ve had my fair share of it. I just hope that eventually, if you race long enough, you can’t keep crapping out all the time. Eventually, you’re going to hit your number.
“It just seems like this year, for the first 12, 13 races, it’s gone as bad as it could go. I think we’re still 20th in points or something like that. Ridiculous. But we’re trending back in the right direction and I look, and a win would put us P1 or something in the playoff standings.
“It’s crazy how that works, but we’ve done good in stages, we won a race, and we’re heading in the right direction.
“Certainly, the number one thing for me is to try to win the Coke 600 simply from the connection I have with Coke as much as knocking off all the crown jewels. We really only have three left, so this would be all of them.”