Denny Hamlin comes up just short of Speedweeks sweep

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Jerry Seinfeld has an old line of his comedy routine, where he said he’d rather finish last than secure a Silver medal in the Olympics.

He makes a gesture where he shows the Gold medalist with his face inches ahead, the Silver’s just behind. And that difference is what allows the Gold medalist to be recognized, and the Silver to become a mere afterthought.

Tonight, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the Gold medalist, and Denny Hamlin was the Silver medalist in the Daytona 500.

And Hamlin seemed as though he’d rather finish last than finish second.

“Well there’s a lot to be disappinted about but there’s a lot to be happy about,” Hamlin said.

After winning the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night, then taking his Budweiser Duel win on Thursday, Hamlin entered Sunday as race favorite. A win on Sunday would have made him the first in history to pull off the Daytona Speedweeks trifecta sweep.

Hamlin started from the second row and enjoyed a consistent race, within the top 10 for most of it but really putting himself in position to win late.

How he held up was a story in itself, where he had intermittent radio outages. So he had to essentially had to drive by himself with no audio help from his spotter.

“I had to wing it those last 150 laps on my own, with not having a spotter,” Hamlin said. “I didn’t know whether to back up more. That’s why we lost our luster. It was just me trying not to wreck anyone. Trying to spot all six corners by itself.”

He tried making his move off Turn 4 on the final lap, but to no avail. The gap of 0.092 of a second, albeit under caution, was the furthest gap between a winner and second place finisher in the three major races at Daytona this weekend.

And for Hamlin, it never felt so far away.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he sighed.

Still, after the nightmare 2013 he endured, being disappointed with second is a good sign for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who is an early candidate to be “most improved” in 2014.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/