Denny Hamlin brushed the confetti out of his hair. He even had to spit out a few stray pieces that had floated into his mouth.
For Hamlin, the celebration at Homestead-Miami Speedway was a satisfying way to end a difficult racing season.
Hamlin won NASCAR’s final race of the season, the Ford EcoBoost 400, and was savoring every moment in Victory Lane, looking at the fireworks above him, the flashbulbs coming from the crowd and being showered with those massive amounts of confetti.
To win Saturday, Hamlin averaged 130.693 miles per hour in his No. 11 Toyota and edged out pole-sitter and second-place finisher Matt Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third and Hamlin walked away with $322,350.
When something is so elusive and so hard to come by, you want to grasp it tightly and not let go. That’s what Hamlin was doing.
Finally, Hamlin was all smiles. Just as important, he no longer was winless in 2013.
“It was just an amazing drive,” Hamlin said of the victory. “What I love about this win is that it means more because of going through the bad times.”
Those bad times included a compression fracture to Hamlin’s back sustained in a racing accident.
“It’s tough when you go through a corner and you can’t feel the car because of lightning bolts of pain,” Hamlin said of the injury’s aftermath.
He was even warned of paralysis if he was in a wreck, which obviously is one of the hazards of being a race-car driver. He never considered quitting, although frustration was usually a passenger with him in the car when competing.
“It’s been a horrible year,” he admitted. “I was going to be counting down the laps. You hate to say you give up, but you kind of concede the fact that you weren’t going to keep the streak of a win for every year in your career alive.”
The back injury caused Hamlin, 32, to miss four races this season, although he admitted there were other factors for the dismal results. His statistics going into Sunday’s race: 31 starts, five poles, zero wins, three top fives, seven top 10s and eight did-not-finish. His best race was a second at Darlington.
All those numbers added up to disappointment.
“I really never got a feel of the car that I was comfortable enough to go up and race for wins,” he said.
“It’s hard to find the motivation to perform at 100 percent when you’re trying to find yourself ... really, when you feel like you’re not racing for anything.”
That attitude, Hamlin said, is hopefully changing.
“As bad as this year has been, now we can take a little solace in this finish. I feel like there’s no reason why we can’t shoot out of the gates in 2014.”
Then Hamlin summed up Sunday’s triumph:
“This does so much for our confidence. It makes me appreciate the opportunities I have. I think this does so much for us emotionally ... knowing that we can get back to the top.”