LEADER: Chris gabehart
TEAM: Joe gibbs racing
POINTS: Third in the NASCAR Cup Series
WINS: Two (Darlington II, Las Vegas II)
LED TOURS: 1,502
TOP 5: 19
TOP 10: 25
FIRST QUALIFIED: Five times (Homestead-Miami, Atlanta I, Talladega I and II, Charlotte Roval)
THE GOOD THING IS : After a seven-game winning season in 2020, Denny Hamlin has surprisingly remained winless during this year’s regular season. It was not for lack of effort. Hamlin held the Cup Series’ best average result before the qualifiers, bolstered by 13 top-5s and 17 top-10s in the first 26 races.
The proverbial hammer finally shattered the proverbial boulder in the playoff opener at Darlington, as Hamlin fought off a final attack from Kyle Larson to win the Southern 500 and advance to the round of 12. When that round came to an end. opened three weeks later in Las Vegas, Hamlin was victorious again. and participated in the round of 8.
The 11th and 5th places in the first two races of the Round of 8 put Hamlin in a good position for a Championship spot 4 the following week in Martinsville. There, Hamlin’s chance to earn his place was dashed by a bump-and-run from Alex Bowman in the final laps.
This relegated Hamlin to 24th place, and Hamlin quickly interrupted Bowman’s celebration of victory before calling him a “hack” afterwards. Somewhat buried in the drama: Hamlin has indeed clinched a place in the Championship 4 with eight points to lose.
Hamlin also became the Cup team owner as part-owner of 23XI Racing alongside NBA legend Michael Jordan. 23XI’s first season was not without its challenges, but it was not without its rewards either as driver Bubba Wallace claimed the first Cup victory for himself and the team in October at Talladega.
After Wallace’s triumph, Hamlin said it would take him “a minute” to consider becoming the owner of a winning team. But he added: “It’s just a huge boost for morale, a huge boost for Bubba’s confidence… There are a lot of positives that will come out of this that will last a very, very long time.”
WHAT DIDN’T GO GOOD: With a third place finish in the title final in Phoenix, Hamlin again failed to win his first Cup title. He placed second for the final restart with 24 laps to go, but leader Kyle Larson had a better launch and strode for victory and the championship.
However, compared to his appearance in the title race in 2020, Hamlin was far more successful in terms of performance. With that in mind, you can safely say that Hamlin had more painful near misses in 2021.
The aforementioned encounter with Bowman could fall into this category. Same thing with the three in a row he had in the spring: failing to overtake Joey Logano in the Bristol gravel race, being caught late by Martin Truex Jr. at Martinsville and having Bowman steal a victory from him in Richmond. . Let’s also not forget the Indianapolis road course, where an incident with Chase Briscoe also deprived him of a possible victory.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: Inheritance is no problem for Hamlin. His 46 victories behind the wheel cement him and his entry into the team’s ownership extends him. However, one question remains: what will it take to finally win it all? In the current era, just winning Championship 4 is a huge accomplishment – and in 2022, Hamlin has a chance to do so for a fourth year in a row. But will 2022 finally be his year?