The end of the Daytona 500 seemed like the perfect time for Denny Hamlin to pair up with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and challenge the two Roush Fenway Racing cars up front for the win.
Well, at least Hamlin thought so.
On the final green-white-checkered restart, race leader (and eventual winner) Matt Kenseth started on the inside with Hamlin behind him. On the outside, it was Greg Biffle ahead of Earnhardt Jr.
And behind the top four, three Richard Childress Racing cars – Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard – figured to team up together.
The green flag waved, and Hamlin began to push Kenseth in hopes of connecting in a tandem draft. But it quickly became obvious the two Roush Fenway Racing cars were going to work together, and Biffle ducked down behind Kenseth.
At that point, Hamlin looked around him and realized he and Earnhardt Jr. were the two odd men out. So why not team up?
"To me it made sense to hook up with the 88, but trust me, I was on the radio asking and requesting," Hamlin said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "But you just you didn't get much cooperation there."
Earnhardt Jr. had decided to try and push Biffle to the finish for strategic reasons, he said Friday. It was nothing against Hamlin, he said, because "me and him are good friends."
"I was going to push the guy who was in front of me, because that gives me a chance – if I do it right – to come off Turn 4 in second place and pass him for the win," Earnhardt Jr. said. "If I'm getting pushed by somebody, I'm gonna be the loser."
But Hamlin felt the end of the 500 could have unfolded differently if Earnhardt Jr. had worked with him. If the 11 and 88 cars had paired up, they perhaps could have made a two-car draft to challenge the Roush cars for the win.
Hamlin said he pushed other cars to the lead for the whole race and felt he and Earnhardt Jr. would have made a formidable duo.
"I think (Earnhardt Jr.) conceded a victory by pushing the 16," Hamlin said. "I didn't think he really had a shot to win making that choice. I think that he had a shot if we linked up either in front or behind. It just seemed like things never really worked out."