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Defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin showed up Wednesday night to attend an Orlando Magic NBA game and help promote the upcoming Daytona Speedweeks, conceding there remains a lot of positive feedback about a special and sentimental move he made a day earlier for one of the sport's favorite sons.
On Tuesday, Hamlin revealed on social media that he will carry his car owner J.D. Gibbs' first name above the driver door on his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry. Like Gibbs, Hamlin's initials are J.D. -- James Dennis. Gibbs' initials J.D. stand for Jason Dean.
Gibbs, a popular and well-liked personality has been sidelined from his once-busy role running the Joe Gibbs Racing team because of health reasons. He has been treated for symptoms affecting his brain function and his welfare is always on the mind of team members.
So for Hamlin, this was actually an easy way to send a strong message of support.
And the positive response to the gesture has been immediate and strong.
"It's very tough to figure out what is the right thing to do to pay tribute to J.D.," Hamlin said Wednesday while visiting the local Florida media.
"That car is number 11 for a reason. Although people always think it's that number because it always has been throughout my career, that was J.D.'s number -- his college number -- when he played football (at the College of William and Mary)."
Hamlin reminded that it was actually J.D. that persuaded his famous father, Joe Gibbs, to hire Hamlin and give him a chance in the big leagues.
The result has been 29 wins and a championship runner-up finish (2010) in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings.
"It's a very special thing for him and it's always been his car,'' Hamlin said. "He was there that very first time and made the call to sign me to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing so I tried to do the best I could to pay tribute to him as well and his family.
"We're going to leave it on for the year. I think it's important to do that.''
After one more official off day (Thursday) before the 2017 season begins, Hamlin will arrive at Daytona International Speedway for the season kickoff non-points race, the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Saturday night.
Front row qualifying for the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 will be Sunday.