DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin became a spectator for the first time in his career at “The Great American Race.”

Hamlin crashed out of NASCAR’s premier event Sunday, his first DNF in 17 starts in the season opener.

Hamlin was caught up on a eight-car melee near the end of the opening stage. Brad Keselowski was aggressively pushing Harrison Burton and eventually caused the rookie to lose control and turn sideways into Kyle Busch and William Byron. Burton’s car flipped onto its roof before getting hit again and turning back onto its tires.

“I’ve hit a lot harder before, that’s for sure. It’s just unfortunate,” Burton said. “I don’t know if it was too much (of a push). I just think it might have been in the wrong spot.”

Hamlin, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman had nowhere to go and drove into the mess. Hamlin, Chastain, Burton and Byron sustained enough damage to their cars that they were knocked out before the 100-lap mark.

“We were kind of boxed in there where I noticed that something was going to happen, but I was boxed in, I was behind a teammate and I wanted to try to help,” Hamlin said. “Again, just too aggressive pushing right there when they weren’t lined up and in control.”

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It was the first time Hamlin failed to be running at the end of a Daytona 500, an impressive streak considering how often cars crash on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.

Hamlin won the race in 2016, 2019 and 2020. He was trying to join Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty as the only drivers to win the 500 at least four times.

But Hamlin ended up as a spectator at Daytona for the first time Sunday. He stuck around to watch his newly expanded team, 23XI Racing he created with NBA legend Michael Jordan. Hamlin and Jordan hired Kurt Busch to join Bubba Wallace on the team. Jordan was attending the race.

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