Denny Hamlin earned his fifth win of the season Sunday at Kansas Speedway and he’s already turning in career statistical numbers, such as his 17 top fives and counting total. But there’s a stat he would like to own, and it comes with a trophy too – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
The 38-year-old Virginian is undeniably the prince of the Martinsville short track among his eight remaining Playoff competitors. His five wins at the half-miler are most among the Playoff field. Only seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s nine Martinsville victories are more than Hamlin’s among this week’s entrants.
From 2009-10. Hamlin won three consecutive races at the historic half-miler – a feat done by only a handful of drivers, all champions: Richard Petty (1968-69), Cale Yarborough (1976-77), Darrell Waltrip (1988-89), Rusty Wallace (1994-95) and Jimmie Johnson (2006-07). Fred Lorenzen holds the all-time mark of four straight Martinsville wins between 1963-65.
In addition to his trophies, Hamlin has finished runner-up three times and third place on three more occasions. He’s led 100 laps or more five times at Martinsville. Statistically, when Hamlin’s good, he’s great. He led 502 of his 1,001 career laps out front at Martinsville in just two races – 296 laps in a runner-up finish in Spring 2009 and 206 laps in his Fall 2009 victory.
He has five top-10 finishes in the last seven Martinsville races and the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was runner-up to Joey Logano in last year’s Playoff race. He was fifth in March and boasts the best average finish (9.6) among Playoff drivers. His 20 top 10s at Martinsville are best among Playoff competitors and second only to Johnson’s 24 in this week’s starting field.
He’s my pick to win on Sunday. If he can do so, then he’s in good company. Two of the last three winners of this race have gone on to win the championship a few weeks later in Homestead. Plus, since this new format was adopted in 2014, we’ve had a different champion each year. Hamlin, has yet to win a title in that time frame.
Numbers and trends are on his side.