A day after Denny Hamlin won his fifth race of the season at Kansas Speedway, is he on the way to his first Cup Series championship?
The 2020 NASCAR season has been anything but ordinary, thanks to COVID. Races canceled and moved to other venues, a revamped schedule that has created mid-week events as the Cup Series has never seen, and the pressures of having back-to-back days of racing. But through it all, Denny Hamlin is enjoying his best season since 2012 and is in hot pursuit of his personal best in victories of eight in 2010 following his fifth at Kansas Speedway Thursday evening.
“I love winning,” he said after the race. “I just want to get as many wins as I possibly can. Hopefully, I win the last race of the season. That’s the goal. But there are no guarantees. We’re putting together a very, very solid season in many, many aspects. That, to me, is a great season. If we can somehow get to the final four, we have accomplished our goal. From that point on, the last 301 laps, whatever it is at Phoenix, we’ll give it our best shot and [see] where we stack up.”
At 39, about the time many drivers start planning for what they will do after NASCAR, Hamlin is as good as he has ever been, maybe better.
I certainly believe so,” he said when asked if he is running the best in his career. “I mean, 2010 was a great run with eight wins. I mean, man, we’re more competitive week in, week out now than what we were in 2010. I would say some of our races in 2010 were more dominant, but I feel the field was more stretched out a little bit, where we would hit a setup and take off. All these cars with the aerodynamic package that keeps us closer, it’s tougher to really dominate races. I certainly feel like I’m in contention more than I was in 2010.”
WINS DON’T ALWAYS TRANSLATE INTO STANDINGS
But if you look at the points standings, his five wins lead the series yet is fourth behind Kevin Harvick in first with one less W, followed by Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, and a whopping 129 points in the hole. Chase Elliott in fifth with just a single win and he trails the Virginia native by a mere four points. It has an oxymoronic ring to it.
Hamlin locked him into the playoffs right off the bat in the Daytona 500, so there was no pressure on him the rest of the way. Maybe that is why he continues to run week after week like it’s a type of All-Star race, checkers or wreckers. His 42 career trips to the winner’s circle are fourth-best among active drivers, and with two more, he would tie Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 18th all-time.
Since becoming a full-time Cup driver in 2006, Hamlin is averaging just under three wins a season (2.8). He has already surpassed that in 2020. Should he start a five-year plan next season toward retirement and maintains his current average, that would give him 56, and that is presuming he fails to add to his total this year. If he wasn’t already a Hall of Fame candidate, 56 moves him into the top-ten, almost assuring his spot in the Charlotte shrine.
One might say, “That’s one helluva career.” Hamlin would say, “But I didn’t get the brass ring,” meaning the NASCAR Cup Series championship. Will this be his year? Stay tuned.
WRECKERS AND MORE WRECKERS
Thursday’s Super Start Batteries 400 had plenty of totaled cars while others came back after looking like they barely escaped a demolition derby. There were a lot of playoff contenders who never got to finish and put a nice dent in their chances. The hardest hit, figuratively and literally, was Jimmie Johnson, who fell below the cut line after being collected ina multi-car wreck on Lap 175.
After the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas, ‘Old Seven-Time’ was 14 points to the good in 15th, one spot above the cutoff. One week later, he sits in 18th, having to chase Austin Dillon and Erik Jones just to get in. And there is also one nagging stat that hangs over his head like a dark cloud in a Ziggy cartoon. He is winless since 2017.
Of course, a win will change everything, but the way Johnson’s season is going, an eighth title doesn’t seem to be in his future.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
- Loser: Austin Dillon falls from 14th to 17th.
- Loser: Matt Dibenedetto. While ‘only’ dropping one place after being caught up in the same wreck as Johnson, he is now in 13th in points and the best he can only start in New Hampshire between 13th and 24th.
- Loser: Denny Hamlin. Leads series in wins with five, but is fourth in points.
- Winner: Denny Hamlin. After scoring a win the second Pocono race on June 28, he had three straight finishes of 28, 12, and 20 before Thursday.
- Winner: Clint Bowyer. He took the spot previously occupied by DiBenedetto, and because he is in the inside of the top-dozen, he has a chance at the pole but will start no worse than twelfth.
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