Return Trip For Hamlin

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Sunday’s Budweiser Shootout victory wasn’t the first time Denny Hamlin visited the famed Victory Lane at Daytona. His first trip came as a guest of the driver he held off at the finish line in the 70-lap all-star event – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Hamlin witnessed Earnhardt Jr. capture his first Daytona 500 victory something the 25 year-old driver of the No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet hopes to do this Sunday. His 2004 invitation to Daytona came through the friendship he developed with Junior through the years. One thing Earnhardt and Hamlin do in their spare time is race online in Junior's DMP Sim Racing League.

"We're good friends,” said Earnhardt Jr. “We haven’t really made a big deal out of it, because that’s just being good friends. We’ve done a lot of things together, we hang out together, and we talk during the week just about every night.”

Although Earnhardt Jr. has seven restrictor-plate wins, his runner-up finish in the Shootout to rookie Hamlin didn’t come as a surprise.

“I knew he was a pretty good race car driver,” said Earnhardt. “Right when he started racing for Joe Gibbs in the Busch Series. Gibbs was still quite not that sure of him because that 20 car is not a real dominant Busch team, and it’s hard to judge a guy’s talent when you put him in a car that is sort of mediocre half the time and runs good half the time. I think Denny is a lot better race car driver than a lot of people realize.”

Earnhardt, Jr. was so confident in Hamlin's ability that he even tried to get Joe Gibbs Racing to give up the young driver so he could put him in a seat at DEI.

“They (JGR) hung onto Hamlin and that's probably the smartest move they've made, because he's going to make them a lot of money," said Earnhardt.

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