The goal for any athlete is to achieve the pinnacle of in his or her sport. Eluded by many, a championship is the ultimate piece to solidify that athlete’s success. Wins, losses, stats all serve as a solid foundation, but the culmination comes in the form of proving that you are better than everyone else. Denny Hamlin has never won a NASCAR Championship. Yet, if one was to look at his driving record during his career, he has continually proven himself to be one of the best drivers in the sport. 2019 has arguably been his best season since 2010, but hoisting up the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup trophy is the only way to cement all he has done throughout his time in NASCAR.
Winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup is no easy feat, especially with the relatively new playoff format. However, NASCAR has had five different winners from five different teams in as many years. Since Jimmie Johnson’s dominated the sport from 2006-2010, there has been a considerable parody from NASCAR’s top teams. Now is the time for Denny Hamlin to make his mark.
Denny Hamlin’s 35 wins ranks fourth among active drivers. Oddly enough, the three active drivers above him as well as the four below are all former NASCAR Cup Champions.
Hamlin is also a model of consistency finishing top 10 in over half of his races, and this season has been no different. Hamlin currently has the best average finish, 9.8, of his career with eleven races remaining.
Prior to his involvement in a late race wreck at Darlington, Denny Hamlin had finished in the top 5 in six consecutive races including two wins. His recent victory in Bristol over Matt Dibenedetto was a true show of force. Not only did Hamlin hunt down Dibenedetto, but he already had the perfect strategy in mind and pulled it off exceptionally. Discussing the win Hamlin stated,
“I knew I had time. I just worked him over, worked him over, and I knew I did’t want to show him the bottom until I knew I could make the pass, and I ran the top got the position on the bottom and finished it.”
There looks to be a positive aura surrounding Hamlin in the lead up to the NASCAR Playoffs. Unfortunately for the veteran, there is still a considerable amount of work to do in the playoffs, and with many drivers looking at the top of their game winning the Championship will be an arduous task.
Hamlin has accrued 16 wins at playoff tracks, which represents around 45% of his total wins. There continues to be one particular round in the playoffs where Hamlin must improve. He has generally struggled at tracks that host a second round playoff race. Dover, Talladega, and Kansas have not been too kind to the Florida native over the years. He has a combined average finishing position of 17.2. Hamlin, however, performed demonstrably better at these tracks last year in the playoffs with a 2nd place finish at Dover, a 4th place finish at Talladega, and a 14 place finish at Kansas.
A truly worrisome statistic lies in the fact that Hamlin has only won a single race during the playoffs, regardless of his involvement, since 2014. The playoffs are a time where the best drivers rise to the occasion. It is the quintessential opportunity to close the deal when the pressure is at its greatest. Under the current playoff format, a win in any round guarantees advancement to the next, and this is where Hamlin has continually fallen short of expectations.
If Hamlin’s recent run of form as well as his demeanor off the track are any indication, this just might be the best opportunity for him to win his first title. Hamlin will need to out drive his teammate Kyle Busch as well as other worthy contenders to just to have a seat at the table come Homestead. He has already established himself as a true talent in NASCAR, but at the end of the day the best drivers and teams are judged by Championships.