DAYTONA BEACH — Denny Hamlin insists he didn't let retiring NASCAR star Tony Stewart win last week at Sonoma Raceway.
Asked about his runnerup finish at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, Hamlin made it clear that his mistake was the main reason Stewart got by him in the final turn Sunday.
Stewart passed Hamlin on the inside going into tricky Turn 11 on the road course and held on to break an 84-race winless streak.
"I didn't let Tony win," Hamlin said. "I made a mistake and didn't execute good," Hamlin said.
"My biggest mistake I feel like is not recognizing the gap I had behind me. … I still needed to execute to make him make the decision. Instead I made the decision for him."
Hamlin took the lead from Stewart in Turn 7, but locked up the wheels and got wide on the final hairpin turn.
The last-lap pass had some questioning whether Hamlin intentionally let Stewart get a much-needed victory in his final season, a win that likely will get the three-time champion one more chance for a title in the Chase for the Championship.
"In my defense, which I should still not make mistakes, is that I've never been in that position before," Hamlin said. "I've not been that competitive on road courses and so I didn't know the proper defensive move going into that last corner."
Hamlin, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver who was once Stewart's teammate, congratulated Stewart in Victory Lane and late apologized to his team.
Now the focus is Daytona, the site of Saturday's Coke Zero 400 and the place where Hamlin picked up the biggest victory of his career in February, in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's trying to become the sixth driver to sweep both races at Daytona in the same season.
"It's definitely been a good year no matter what when you win a race like that," Hamlin said.
Orlando decal: NASCAR teams are running a decal on their cars at Daytona to honor the 49 victims killed last month in the mass shooting in Orlando. "It was a terrible tragedy," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm glad that the sport has got the stickers on all the cars. I think it's a great way for us to show our support."