Denny Hamlin is giving Mark Martin some competition: Which of the two drivers is the best to never win a NASCAR title?
Martin, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, had 40 wins in his 30-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, while Hamlin currently has 36 in half the seasons. Hamlin, though, has only finished runner-up in the standings once since 2006, whereas Martin had five second-place finishes in the championship battle throughout his time.
Now, Hamlin is trying to separate himself from Martin. He wants to win what’s been an elusive championship, attempting to become the fourth driver to do so for Joe Gibbs Racing.
2019 is arguably Hamlin’s best shot to win NASCAR’s top prize, potentially securing his own plaque in the Hall of Fame. Through 34 races, he has a career-high 18 top fives and 22 top 10s, highlighted by an astonishing 9.7 average finish.
Throughout Hamlin’s career, his No. 11 car has constantly competed for wins. But the Virginian hasn’t been this strong on the racetrack since 2012, when he won five races, leading 1,226 laps with 17 top 10s.
And it appears that Hamlin’s winless 2018 campaign has motivated him to succeed more than ever. With five wins on the year, he’s reemerged as one of NASCAR’s fiercest competitors.
The No. 11 Toyota has paced the field for 777 laps thus far, the most for the team since 2012. Hamlin, rejuvenated and determined as ever before, is geared up for a title battle, should he make his way into the Championship 4 Sunday, Nov. 10, at ISM Raceway.
Crew chief Chris Gabehart has done a fine job at recreating the winning magic the No. 11 team had a decade ago, when Hamlin won four races in 2009 and eight in 2010.
But the 38-year-old Hamlin knows this might be his best chance to win the championship. He’s never been as consistent on the track as he is this year.
Hamlin enters ISM 25 points behind teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the fourth and final spot in the final four. While he hasn’t won at the track since 2012, there’s no reason this team, which has been as fast as it has ever been, can’t take home the checkered flag on Sunday.
Hamlin has 16 top 10s in 28 starts at the track. He finished fifth at ISM in the spring, and the momentum is on his side. It will likely take a victory to advance to the title battle in Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And doing so is important. While Hamlin signed a multi-year extension with JGR in 2017, his future after this contract expires is uncertain. Toyota has a plethora of young drivers in its camp, and the pressure is on.
Should Hamlin advance to the Championship 4, he not only might be solidify his standing at JGR — he could also seal his legacy as one of NASCAR’s best drivers throughout the last two decades and beyond.