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Denny Hamlin predicting another Daytona crashfest tonight

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 60th Annual Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18: Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford, and Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident with several other cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 60th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2018 Daytona 500 featured four multicar crashes that affected 28 drivers.

Denny Hamlin says to expect more of the same Saturday in NASCAR’s return to Daytona International Speedway nearly five months later – just with different circumstances producing a similar outcome in Coke Zero Sugar 400.

In the lone practice Friday afternoon on the 2.5-mile oval, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said the pack was much tighter and clearances much smaller.

“You could actually get to someone’s bumper in a four-car pack,” Hamlin said Friday morning. “I think it’s going to be a crashfest, which will be exciting. Hopefully, we’re not a part of it, but I think it’s going to be so close competition that we’re going to leave each other no room for error and more than likely it’s going to lead to big crashes.”

NASCAR has widened the Daytona spoilers by five inches for this weekend, adding sideforce that Hamlin said should enhance side-by-side drafting.

“It just creates a little bit bigger hole in the air,” he said. “Guys just are not going to leave each other any room.”

The 2016 Daytona 500 winner, who is considered among the best restrictor-plate racers in Cup, said it’ll be critical to get to the front early and stay there.

“All the same techniques to get to the front are going to be the same, making sure you put your chess pieces in the right place, but I think holding the lead probably will be a little bit harder than it was in the past,” he said. “I think the leader will punch a little bit bigger hole for the cars that are behind.”

“Anywhere from outside the top six or seven, you’re going to be blocked in, (and) you won’t be able to go anywhere. I think that it’s important to get up front early. The old strategy of laying back for the last 30, 40 laps like Dale Jarrett used to do, those days are done because everyone tries to go to the front at the same time and they’ve learned well you just get in the wreck anyway. I think earlier and earlier in the race, you have to put yourself in position.”

Contributing: Dustin Long