HOMESTEAD, Fla – Heading into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Denny Hamlin had to be worried about if his days with Joe Gibbs Racing were numbered. He was approaching his late 30’s in terms of age and riding a winless streak that dated back to 2017. With a driver like Christopher Bell coming up and needing a place to go in 2020, Hamlin’s seat was growing warmer.
Another winless season in 2019 like he had in 2018 and his job could be in jeopardy. I mean, if you look at the preseason championship odds, Hamlin was listed with Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola at 22/1.
His zero wins in 2018 was the first year that he failed to score a single victory. His 10 top fives were the fewest since seven in 2014. His 17 top 10’s were the least amount for him since 2013. His 380 laps led were the fewest since 2013 and 2014.
With Kyle Busch making the Championship 4 in 2015, his title winning year, 2016, 2017 and 2018, no way JGR would cut ties with him. They just brought in Martin Truex Jr. who had won the 2017 championship and he himself making the final round in three of the last four years.
Erik Jones was still young and developing. He even won in 2018. All three would hold solid ground at JGR. Bell does too. What about Hamlin?
Well, he silenced any doubters with his Daytona 500 triumph in February. It was his first win since the 2017 Southern 500. He became the first driver playoff eligible. Last Sunday, he became the last driver Championship eligible. Now, can he bookend his 2019 season with a win in the season opener as well as the season finale to take home his first Cup championship as a result?
Since the Championship 4 was adopted in 2014, the series champion has won the race at Homestead every year. That’s why Hamlin has to win on Sunday.
But, his season may already have been won even if he doesn’t earn a title. See, this is arguably Hamlin’s best season. He’s won six times, most since he won eight in 2010. He has career highs in 19 top five finishes and 23 top 10’s. He’s led 920 laps, most since 2012. He has a career best 9.5 average finishing spot too.
He won the Daytona 500, the Bristol Night race and is now looking for a championship. How great of a season is it for him to do all of this with his back against the wall?