Denny Hamlin’s fourth win of the 2019 season at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway two weeks ago wasn’t just significant statistically. It puts him in the right frame of mind at the right time to make another Playoff run. The victory extended Hamlin’s current streak of top-five finishes to six and provides him with good momentum towards hoisting the biggest trophy of all – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship hardware.
Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. lead the championship field with four wins each as the regular season concludes with races at Darlington, S.C. on Sunday and Indianapolis, Ind. next week.
Arguably, no one heads into the notoriously tough Darlington race weekend with more championship optimism than Hamlin’s No. 11 JGR Toyota team.
He has a season best 13 top-five finishes through the opening 24 races and his sixth straight top five at Bristol was good enough to move him up another position – to third place – in the championship standings. It’s the highest he’s been ranked since April following his Richmond win – after the Daytona 500 winner teetered between first and second in the points during the season’s opening nine races.
And based on his history at Darlington, there’s no reason to believe Hamlin’s current momentum shifts.
He boasts one of the best Darlington records on the grid with victories in 2010 and 2017. He has top-10 finishes in 11 of 13 starts at the track. His average finish is 6.154 – best among all active drivers – and he has never suffered a DNF.
Three times he’s led at least 100 laps – two of those resulting in wins. In 2007, he led 179 laps and finished runner-up. Last year he won the pole position, led 11 laps and finished 10th.
“This FedEx team is on such a roll right now,’’ said Hamlin, whose No. 11 JGR Toyota will carry a paint scheme honoring a former No. 11 driver, three-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.
“We show up fast to the race track each and every weekend and I’m proud of what our entire team has been able to accomplish these past few weeks. We are happy with what we have been doing, but know there is a lot of work ahead of us, especially with the Playoffs just around the corner.’’