SONOMA, Calif. – When longtime sponsor FedEx told Denny Hamlin he could design his own throwback paint scheme for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, he jumped at the opportunity to honor one of the sport’s legends – even if he hated him growing up.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver revealed his 2019 Darlington throwback scheme on Friday at Sonoma Raceway — a tribute to Darrell Waltrip, the three-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer who is retiring from the FOX broadcast booth after Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
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“(Watching NASCAR as a boy,) I knew (Darrell) was tough. He was a tough guy. I grew up a huge Bill Elliott fan and he was one of the toughest competitors, Darrell Waltrip was,” Hamlin said Friday. “One of my best friends at the time, we grew up watching racing and his favorite driver was Darrell Waltrip. So, we would always be sparring back and forth each week whether it be at school or wherever, talking about his driver versus my driver.
“I’ve grown to really like Darrell and everything he represents and to give 40 years of his life, not only to racing, but he transformed the sport in so many different ways, that’s just an honor to be able to know him and see him off into the sunset.”
From 1981-86 Waltrip drove the No. 11 car, the numeral that has donned Hamlin’s car since 2005. This year’s scheme is a nod to Waltrip’s Western Auto look, and it was the winner of an employee vote at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“This has been a process; this has been a couple months that I emailed FedEx and said ‘here’s the ideas that I have. I have two that I really, really like and can bring to the shop to vote’,” Hamlin said. ” … This could be a great way to honor someone who’s been a big influence for myself and a lot of people who’ve been in NASCAR. He’s devoted 40 years of his life to NASCAR and I can’t say thank you enough. This is just a small way for us to do that.”
Hamlin joins Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto among those in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series paying tribute to Waltrip. Cars will also carry a special decal commemorating Waltrip’s final broadcast and the hashtag #ThanksDW is being used across social media.
Waltrip was on-hand to pull the cover off the car Friday morning and was beside himself with the outpouring of support and tributes flowing his way in his final weekend behind the mic — Hamlin’s paint scheme, in particular.
“First of all, I’m flattered. This was one of my favorite paint schemes that I raced and what kind of made this special to me was this was my car. This was my team that started in 1991,” said Waltrip, who has 84 career Monster Energy Series wins. “We had some pretty good days with this car and of course, I guess my favorite number – even though it’s 17 – I always loved car No. 11. You may or may not know this, but that is the winningest number in NASCAR … Things like this mean more to me than anything. To see this car on the race track and think that it might end up in Victory Circle, that’s a pretty big deal.
” … These are the kind of things when people do them – and he wanted to run this car and this scheme – that means the world to me. I do a lot of things, but this is my life and these cars and what they represent and what they mean to me … to think that they mean something to him, too, that’s special. It doesn’t get any better than that. Best-looking car I’ve seen in a long time.”
Hamlin is a two-time Southern 500 winner, with the most recent one coming in 2017.