After months of negotiations, Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing finally announced a multi-year deal Monday (Sept. 4) that kept Hamlin behind the wheel of the No. 11 NASCAR Cup Series Toyota for years to come. Turning 43 years old in November, Hamlin has recommitted to the only Cup team that’s ever employed him for what could be the rest of his full-time career.
”Joe Gibbs Racing has been my home for almost 20 years now,” Hamlin said in a statement. ”My relationship with Joe (Gibbs), my team, and everyone at JGR means a lot to me. We have accomplished so much together over the years. I’m excited to finally announce this [deal] so we can put all our focus on chasing the championship.”
That title remains one of a handful of bucket list items Hamlin has failed to accomplish in his Cup career. Add in his age plus the ownership of a rival organization (23XI Racing) and it’s fair to ask whether another long-term commitment, the type JGR denied Kyle Busch last season, will be worth it.
The answer, to me, was a no-brainer: Hamlin had to be re-signed. Over the past decade of the NASCAR Playoff era, he’s been one of its most consistent and successful drivers.
While never winning a title, Hamlin has gone 10-for-10 in making the playoffs. That’s no small feat, even in the sport’s 16-driver format where a single win during the regular season is enough to get you in.
Top NASCAR Postseason Performers (2014-23)
|Driver||Playoff Apps||Championship 4s (Titles)||Top-10 Points Finishes*|
|Kyle Busch||10||5 (2)||9|
|Denny Hamlin||10||4 (0)||9|
|Kevin Harvick||10||5 (1)||8|
|Brad Keselowski||9||2 (0)||8|
|Joey Logano||9||5 (2)||7|
|Martin Truex Jr.||8||5 (1)||7|
|Kyle Larson||7||1 (1)||7|
|Chase Elliott||7||3 (1)||7|
|Ryan Blaney||7||0 (0)||7|
These drivers above represent the cream of the crop, 30 of the 36 possible Championship 4 slots (83.3 percent). Hamlin has the most appearances without a title and ties former teammate Busch for the most top-10 points finishes. That level of consistency is just as important when it comes to end-of-year money for both drivers and teams.
Some might say Hamlin’s on the verge of getting too old to win that coveted Cup title. That’s not true. Dale Earnhardt’s seventh and final championship came at the age of 43 in 1994; Dale Jarrett turned 43 the month he won his first in 1999. The oldest winner, Bobby Allison, was 45 years old when he triumphed back in 1983.
What drove Allison to success was the same oh-so-close scenario Hamlin’s been a part of several times in his career. Allison lost several nail-biting title battles, including back-to-back to Darrell Waltrip in 1981-82 before getting over the hump. During that stretch, the ages of 43-45 Allison won 19 times, including the 1982 Daytona 500, and finished top 10 or better an astounding 78 percent of the time.
There’s no reason Hamlin can’t do the same at the helm of a JGR organization that gives him top-tier Toyota equipment. Need a more modern example? Harvick won nine times in his age-44 season (2020), collecting 27 top-10 finishes and the regular season championship before his famous playoff flameout down the stretch.
Looking at the win totals over the past 10 years, Hamlin is often underrated.
Most NASCAR Cup Series Wins (2014-23)
|Driver||Wins||Daytona 500s (2014-23)|
|Martin Truex Jr.||32||0|
Hamlin sits with the fifth most wins of any driver during this time period. You also can’t discount the Daytona 500 success: his three wins during the past decade are more than all nine drivers combined in that top-10 list.
So Hamlin brings a lot of value to the table. Why not 23XI? Not only does the team have just two charters, it’s still a step behind JGR in overall success. In just its third year of existence, the team has made the playoffs with both Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace but has won just once this year (Reddick at COTA in March).
Both Toyota and JGR also need a veteran like Hamlin to steer the ship through a few years of transition. Joe Gibbs’ initial plan to leave the race team to his sons has been disrupted with the tragic deaths of both Coy (2022) and J.D. (2019). At 82 years of age, Joe understands the need for more support and received a recent investment from Josh Harris’ ownership group, the same conglomerate that bought the NFL team (Washington) Gibbs once coached to three Super Bowl wins.
The driver lineup will be changing, too. Busch was replaced by Ty Gibbs, Joe’s grandson, and Truex is likely to drive just one more season after taking all summer to announce he’ll return for 2024. Having a strong, 40-something veteran presence should allow for needed stability and, as 23XI strengthens under Hamlin’s leadership, will provide added resources that benefit everyone under the Toyota banner.
Of course, people will wonder why Toyota put all their resources behind Hamlin and not Kyle Busch, a driver who at age 38 has a decade of racing still ahead of him. Busch beats Hamlin at both key metrics on the list, wins and championships, and is positioned well to contend for a third title this season at his new home, Richard Childress Racing.
But since 2020, a quick look at Busch and Hamlin head-to-head shows how much Busch has lost a step.
Career Comparison (2020-23)
|Kyle Busch||Denny Hamlin|
Nothing against Busch, as most drivers would kill for those totals. But Hamlin edges Busch in all four categories and is also equipped with a two-car Cup Toyota team on the rise. Busch’s Truck Series team, by comparison, needed manufacturer support to stay afloat and has floundered this year with Chevrolet; only Busch himself has won in that equipment through 18 races.
Moving forward, it’s clear Hamlin will all-but-certainly retire at Joe Gibbs Racing and complete a rare feat in modern athletics: sticking with one organization his entire career. It’s rare a 42-year-old demands the type of red carpet treatment Hamlin was given under a complex contract negotiation but his value in NASCAR land made him worth every line of fine print – and then some.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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