AVONDALE, AZ – If Denny Hamlin doesn’t win the championship this year, then the doubt if he’d ever win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title will creep in. See, Hamlin is racing as good now as he’s ever been in NASCAR’s premiere series.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has five wins in 2019, tied for second most in a single season for his career. He also has a career high 18 top fives and tied for a career high with 22 top 10’s this season. His average finish is 9.7, best of his career for a single season too.
Hamlin, won the Daytona 500 for the second time of his career back in February. He also won the Bristol Night Race. He came into the Round of 8 with three straight top five finishes and four in his last five starts. Among those was a win in Kansas.
He began the third round of the playoffs with a fourth place finish in Martinsville. But, following a rare mistake at Texas last weekend, Hamlin went from a championship favorite to 20 points behind the final cutoff spot.
He likely needs to win in each of the next two weeks to win this year’s championship. Being 20 points arrears, it’s a lot to make up in one race. Then, since this Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014, the champion has won the race outright at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in all five years. Hamlin’s gone to victory lane in two straight races twice – 2010 and 2012. Can he do so again in 2019 and earn a title?
Those are tall tasks. If he can’t comparisons between he and Mark Martin are coming up.
Martin, raced 31 years. He never won a title. He finished runner-up in the standings five times and had 40 trips to victory lane, but a championship eluded him.
Hamlin, has 36 wins in 15 seasons. He’s been close before too. He just hasn’t won a championship.
“You adjust your expectations,” Hamlin said Friday at ISM Raceway. “No matter what, I will not consider this year any sort of a failure. We, as Mark Martin would say, just didn’t score enough points. We had a great year, we won races, we led more laps than we have in a long time and more top fives than anybody in the series.
“It’s been a really good year and I’m just not going to let the outcome of this weekend, or last weekend, decide whether it’s a good season or not. I think you have to adjust to that. Because in a one-race, winner-take-all (format) or a three-race round – anything can happen, and it did for us.”
Hamlin, said he’d be okay if he never wins a championship and is compared to Martin when his career is all said and done.
“I think Mark Martin said it best, ‘You can still be respected and still have a really successful career without winning a championship,’” Hamlin said. “I read that he thinks about now that he’s 60 years old, he looks back and thinks would a championship make any difference in my life right now? He says, ‘No, it wouldn’t.’
“I’m at that point. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. I know what I’m capable of, I think my competitors know what I’m capable of and I appreciate all the love the media has given me over the last two, three weeks. It’s been incredible. Probably not all of it deserved, but I also think we have to give some love to the other competitors as well. Everyone is looking at is the 11 gonna win?
“They all have an equal chance we have to give them the due respect as well. I’ll do the best I can and see what the outlook can be.”