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May 26, 2017

Hamlin’s winning 2016 Daytona 500 car evokes memories from his living room

Denny Hamlin’s 2016 Daytona 500-winning No. 11 Toyota looks like it has just come off the race track.

See the remains of sticky champagne mixed with dirt that coats the purple body of the car. There’s confetti, eliciting memories of celebration, sprinkled across the hood where all his crew members have signed. There’s the shredded rear tire that was torn to pieces after a victorious burnout that only winning the Daytona 500 will initiate.

But this car isn’t at a race track, a museum or even the Joe Gibbs Racing shop. It sits in Hamlin’s personal living room on display, a glass wall concealing it from guests.

“It’s race condition — you could start the engine if you wanted to,” Hamlin said.

Talk about a party conversation starter.

“When I was building this house, I knew that eventually there was going to be a car that was very significant to me that I wanted to put in here,” Hamlin told while standing in front of the car in his Cornelius, North Carolina, home. “At the time, it was my very first win car from my rookie season that took this spot. But obviously 2016 at the Daytona 500, that all changed and this car took precedence.

“The fashion in which we won it, the closest finish in history, I thought it was fitting to have it sit in a prominent spot like this.”

WATCH: Relive the classic finish

Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota beat out Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota by .010 seconds in a drag race across the start/finish line. It was, as Hamlin pointed out, the closest finish in the race’s history and one that saw Hamlin use the waning laps of the Great American Race to power his way up to the front.

Winning any race in that fashion is special. But winning the Daytona 500 that way is something race car drivers dream about.

“I think it was Daytona 500 or bust,” Hamlin said on choosing a car to sit in his living room. “I think a (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) championship car might take precedence over this one once that time comes around.

“But I knew that this car would never be used again — it sat in a museum for one year before I got to get my hands on it. So it was an important ask for me to get with TRD — my sponsor — FedEx and Joe Gibbs Racing to say, ‘Hey, what can I do to get this car and keep it?’ “

That car isn’t the only one on display in Hamlin’s living room. Sitting behind it are two other No. 11 FedEx race cars: The one in the back is his winning 2006 Budweiser Shootout car that marked Hamlin’s first race in his rookie season and his first Monster Energy Series trip to Victory Lane. That victory was an exhibition win and the rookie driver would go on to win two points-paying races that season, along with the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.

But for a young driver, it meant more than simply bragging rights; it signified inclusion into an elite club.

“It was my very first race in my rookie season and the moment where I felt like I belonged in the Cup series,” Hamlin reminisced. “I’ll never forget my parents being so excited there in Pit Lane, and them getting interviewed after the race. It was just a crazy emotional day.”

The car situated in between the 2006 Shootout car and the 2016 Daytona 500 car is a bit older: It’s Hamlin’s first stock car that came back into his possession recently, thanks to car owner Joe Gibbs.

“I ran (it) at Langley Speedway and Southside Speedway and won a championship in … seven races that year,” Hamlin said. “What was really cool is we sold that car probably four or five years later and Joe Gibbs actually tracked down that car and purchased it back for me. They were going to sell that car and so they contacted my car owner Joe Gibbs and said ‘Hey, we have Denny’s first car, do you have any interest in it?’ And he said absolutely. So, he got it, got it restored for me and it was a great present.”

But perhaps one of Hamlin’s greatest presents is winning the Daytona 500. And proof of that victory sits right in Hamlin’s living room.

He relives that moment when he sits in his living room and faces that glass case housing his prized No. 11 Toyota.

The No. 11 Toyota that won him the Great American Race.

“I just think over and over about the last lap,” Hamlin said. “I’ve driven hundreds and thousands of laps it seems like in the Cup Series and that was probably my best driving final lap or any lap that I’ve ever driven.

“Really, to come from fourth or fifth on the final lap to win that race in the shape or form or fashion that we did, it was a career-defining moment for myself.”