Hamlin to make 600th Cup career start at Indianapolis

Competing in his 17th consecutive full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Denny Hamlin is set to achieve of a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota TRD Camry will achieve career start No. 600 in NASCAR’s premier series.

A native of Chesterfield, Virginia, Hamlin made his inaugural presence in the Cup circuit at Kansas Speedway in October 2005. By then, he was campaigning in his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series and was selected to pilot JGR’s No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet Monte Carlo, where he replaced Jason Leffler, Terry Labonte and J.J. Yeley as all three took turns piloting the ride throughout the season. During the event at Kansas, Hamlin started seventh but finished 32nd in his Cup debut. He returned for the following six Cup events to conclude the 2005 campaign. During this stint, he notched three top-10 results, including a season-best seventh-place result at Texas Motor Speedway November, and started on pole position for the penultimate Cup event in 2005, where he led 23 laps and finished 13th.

In 2006, Hamlin graduated to the Cup Series on a full-time basis in the No. 11 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for JGR. Based on winning his first Cup pole at Phoenix, he made his first start of his rookie campaign in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway in February. During the Shootout, Hamlin led 16 of 72 laps and fended off challenges from teammate Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to become the first rookie Cup candidate to win NASCAR’s pre-season exhibition event.

Making his Daytona 500 debut a week later, Hamlin started 17th and finished 30th. Nine races later, he notched a career-best runner-up result at Richmond Raceway, his home track, behind Earnhardt Jr. Then another four races later, Hamlin notched his first career victory in NASCAR’s premier series at Pocono Raceway in June and became the fourth different competitor to win a Cup Series event for Joe Gibbs Racing. The victory, which occurred in his 21st series start, also occurred after the Virginia native rallied from cutting a left-rear tire and spinning on Lap 52. The momentum continued for Hamlin, who swept both Pocono Cup events when NASCAR returned to the Tricky Triangle circuit in July. The two Pocono victories along with 11 finishes in the top 10 throughout the 26-race regular season stretch were more than enough for the driver of the No. 11 JGR Chevrolet team to qualify for the 2006 Cup Playoffs, thus making Hamlin the first rookie candidate to make the Playoffs. Throughout the 10-race Playoff stretch, he earned seven top-10 results and three top-three results before settling in third place in the final standings and capping off his sensational first Cup season with two victories, three poles, eight top-five results, 20 top-10 results and the 2006 Rookie-of-the-Year title.

The following season, Hamlin achieved his third NASCAR Cup Series career victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July following a late battle with four-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. To go along with 14 top-10 results, including seven in the top three, he made his second consecutive appearance in the Playoffs. During the Playoffs, however, Hamlin only achieved three top-10 results and fell back to 12th place in the final standings.

Six races into the 2008 Cup Series season, Hamlin, who remained at JGR when the team swapped manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota, notched his fourth Cup career victory at Martinsville Speedway in March following another late duel with Gordon. Four races later at Richmond, Hamlin, who started on pole, led 381 of 410, but ended up in 24th place after cutting a right-front tire late in the event and losing three laps in the process. The Martinsville victory along with 13 additional top-10 results, however, were enough for Hamlin to qualify for the Playoffs for a third consecutive season. Despite earning five top-10 results throughout the 2008 Playoffs, Hamlin settled in eighth place in the final standings ahead of teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. By then, the Virginia native surpassed 100 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

After finishing in the top five six times during the first 20 scheduled events of the 2009 season, Hamlin notched his first elusive victory of the year at Pocono, which snapped a 50-race winless drought dating back to March 2008. In Victory Lane, an emotional Hamlin dedicated the win to his grandmother, who died earlier in the week. Five races later, he won the regular season finale at Richmond after leading 299 of 400 laps. Through the first half of the 2009 Cup Playoffs, the Virginia native finished in the top five twice, but suffered back-to-back DNFs at Auto Club Speedway and at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. He rebounded by winning for the third time of the season at Martinsville, but retired late at Talladega Superspeedway due to an engine failure. While he did not emerge as the 2009 Cup champion, Hamlin capped off the season with three consecutive top-three results, including a fourth victory of the year in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, as he also finished in fifth place in the final standings.

Entering the 2010 Cup Series season as a potential championship favorite, Hamlin rallied from finishing no higher than 17th place during the first five scheduled events by overtaking Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth during a two-lap shootout to win at Martinsville in March for the third time in his career. A month after he underwent a knee surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee and finishing in 30th place at Phoenix Raceway, he rallied from starting 28th to win at Texas Motor Speedway in April over the reigning four-time champion Jimmie Johnson and claim his 10th Cup Series career victory. By June, Hamlin notched three additional victories to the 2010 campaign: Darlington Raceway in May, Pocono in June and Michigan International Speedway in June. Three months later, Hamlin prevailed over a late battle with teammate Kyle Busch to claim his sixth victory of the season at Richmond and earn the top starting seed to the Playoffs.

Hamlin’s 2010 Playoff run commenced with a runner-up result at New Hampshire Motor Speedway despite being involved in an on-track incident midway into the event. After finishing no worse than 12th during the following four events, he notched his seventh victory of the season at Martinsville. By then, he narrowed his deficit to Jimmie Johnson to six points. Then after finishing ninth at Talladega, Hamlin dropped the hammer in early November by winning for the eighth time of the season at Texas and snatching the points lead by 33 points over Johnson. During the penultimate event of the season at Phoenix, however, Hamlin, who led a race-high 190 of 312 laps, was forced to pit late in the event due to not having enough fuel to finish the event. By finishing in 12th place while Johnson finished fifth, Hamlin’s advantage in the standings decreased to 15 points entering the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Then at Homestead, Hamlin, who started towards the rear of the field, was involved in an early on-track incident with Greg Biffle and never recovered as he finished 14th while Johnson finished second, which was enough for Johnson to reclaim the points lead and win his fifth consecutive Cup Series championship by 39 points. Despite falling short of winning his first Cup title, Hamlin concluded his fifth full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series with a career-high eight victories, two poles, 14 top-five results, 20 top-10 results and an average-finishing result of 12.9.

Compared to the 2010 season, Hamlin experienced a difficult season in 2011, where he notched only a single victory at Michigan in June. To go along with five top-five results and 14 top-10 results, he made the Playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, but settled in ninth place in the final standings. Despite this, Hamlin surpassed 200 Cup career starts.

The 2012 season featured a new crew chief for Hamlin for the first time in his Cup career as Darian Grubb, who won the 2011 title with Tony Stewart, joined Joe Gibbs Racing after departing Stewart-Haas Racing as he replaced Mike Ford. Two races into the new season, Hamlin raced his way to a momentous victory at Phoenix following a late duel with Kevin Harvick. Another six races later, he won at Kansas Speedway in April following a late battle against Martin Truex Jr. After enduring an up-and-down regular season stretch, Hamlin notched back-to-back victories at Bristol Motor Speedway and at Atlanta Motor Speedway between August and September before entering the 2012 Cup Playoffs with the top seed. Despite claiming his 22nd career victory and fifth of the season at New Hampshire, which marked the 100th Cup career win for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin finished outside of the top 10 in four of the final five scheduled events, which relegated him back to sixth place in the final standings.

Campaigning in his ninth full-time season in the Cup Series with JGR in 2013, Hamlin earned a single top-five result through the first four scheduled events. Mired in this was a 23rd-place result at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, where he cut a right-front tire late in the event. Earlier, he made contact with ex-teammate Joey Logano, which prompted Logano to confront Hamlin following the event. Then during the following scheduled event at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin was involved in a vicious wreck on the final lap while engaged in a late, fierce battle with his newest rival Logano for the win. Entering the final turn, Hamlin was being drifted up the track by Logano and the contact resulted with the former sending the latter into the outside wall as Hamlin then spun below the track and pounded the inside wall near the pit road entrance head-on. After exiting his car and being airlifted to a local hospital, it was later reported that Hamlin suffered a massive L1 compression fracture or a collapsed vertebra, which prevented him from competing during the following four events as Mark Martin and Brian Vickers took turns sharing JGR’s No. 11 Toyota.

Two months following the incident at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin made a brief return to the Cup circuit at Talladega in May, where he started the event before relinquishing his seat early to Vickers for the remainder of the event. A week later at Darlington, Hamlin completed all 500 miles and earned an impressive runner-up result behind teammate Matt Kenseth. Determined to make up the lost time early in the season, Hamlin went on to finish in fourth place in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after starting on pole. Despite winning the pole for the following weekend at Dover in June, Hamlin fell back to 34th place after cutting a right-front tire and retiring late. He rallied by finishing eighth at Pocono, but settled outside of the top 15 through the remaining 12 regular season events, which were enough to prevent Hamlin and the No. 11 JGR Toyota team from making the Playoffs for the first time since 2005. After finishing no higher than seventh twice during the following nine Playoff events, Hamlin capped off the 2013 Cup season on a high note by winning the finale at Homestead in November. The victory, which was the 23rd of Hamlin’s Cup career, extended his all-time winning streak in NASCAR’s premier series to eight consecutive seasons, though he settled in a career-low 23rd-place in the final standings. In the midst of this, he notched a career-high five poles.

Hamlin initiated the 2014 Cup season on a high note by winning both the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona and the second of two Budweiser Duel events before finishing in second place in the 56th running of the Daytona 500 behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. A month later at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin relinquished his seat to Sam Hornish Jr. after experiencing a sinus infection that affected his vision. Then at Talladega Superspeedway in May, Hamlin extended his winning consecutive streak in the Cup Series to nine seasons after emerging victorious at Talladega, which marked his 300th Cup career start. He went on to record eight additional top-10 results during the regular season stretch before the 2014 Cup Playoffs commenced. Throughout the Playoffs, Hamlin utilized consistency to transfer from the Round of 16 all the way to the Championship Round and emerge as one of four finalists to compete for the title at Homestead in November. During the finale, however, Hamlin, who remained out on course on old tires in the closing laps, slipped back to seventh place on the track and in third place in the final standings, which marked his fourth top-five result in a Cup standings.

Paired with veteran crew chief Dave Rogers for his 10th full-time Cup season, Hamlin fended off rival Brad Keselowski at Martinsville in March to claim his fifth victory at the Paper Clip track in his home state of Virginia. Two months later, Hamlin prevailed in a late battle against Kevin Harvick and stellar work from his pit crew to win the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and record the first All-Star victory for himself, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. To go along with 12 additional top-10 results throughout the regular season, Hamlin made his ninth appearance as a Playoff contender. He then commenced the Playoffs on a high note by rallying from an opening lap spin to take the lead during a two-lap shootout and win at Chicagoland Speedway in September. Despite transferring from the Round of 16 to the Round of 12, Hamlin’s title hopes evaporated after being involved in a multi-car wreck at Talladega in October. When the final checkered flag of 2015 flew, Hamlin settled in ninth place in the final standings.

In 2016, Hamlin received his fourth different crew chief of his Cup career as Mike Wheeler replaced Rogers atop the No. 11 pit box. The new duo commenced the 2016 season on a high note by winning the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, which marked Hamlin’s third career victory in NASCAR’s non-point exhibition event. Then during the 58th running of the Daytona 500, Hamlin overtook teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead through the final turn on the final lap and edged Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 to become the 37th different competitor to win the Great American Race for the first time for himself, for Toyota and for Joe Gibbs Racing since 1993. To this day, Hamlin’s margin of victory over Truex of 0.010 stands as the closet-recorded finish in the history of the Daytona 500. Twenty-one races later, where he notched nine additional top-10 results, Hamlin claimed his first road course victory at Watkins Glen International in August. He then capped off the regular season by winning at Richmond for the third time of his career in September. Throughout the Playoffs, Hamlin and the No. 11 JGR team earned seven results in the top 10, but their 2016 title hopes came to an end following the Round of 8 as the Virginia veteran finished in sixth place in the final standings.

By competing in the first two scheduled events of 2017, where he finished outside the top 15 in both events, Hamlin reached 400 Cup career starts. He then finished in the top 10 nine times during the following 16 scheduled events before claiming his first win of the season and his 30th Cup career victory at New Hampshire in July. Two months later, he rallied from a late pit road error to benefit from Truex cutting a right-front tire in the closing laps and win the Southern 500 at Darlington for a second time. The victory, however, was ruled encumbered as Hamlin’s car failed post-race inspection. Despite this, he made his 10th career appearance in the Playoffs. After finishing in the top 10 four times during the first six scheduled Playoff events, Hamlin was one of eight competitors still active in the Playoffs for the title. Then at Martinsville in October, he was involved in a late controversial incident with Chase Elliott, whom Hamlin wrecked in the closing laps while battling for the win and a spot to the Championship Round finale at Homestead in November. While Elliott fell back to 29th place, Hamlin settled in seventh after being overtaken by teammate Kyle Busch on the penultimate lap and being swept in a multi-car wreck while trying to finish the event. His incident with Elliott, however, carried forth following the event, where both competitors exchanged harsh words near the backstretch. Despite finishing third at Texas during the following weekend, Hamlin’s title hopes for 2017 evaporated at Phoenix when he made contact with Elliott and cut a right-front tire in the closing laps. Instead of a possible trip to Victory Lane and the main championship stage, Hamlin settled in sixth place in the final standings for a second consecutive season.

The 2018 Cup Series season marked the first time since 2005 where Hamlin concluded the season winless as he only managed to record four poles, 10 top-five results and 17 top-10 results. Despite utilizing consistency to make the Playoffs, his championship hopes came to an early end following the Round of 16 and three consecutive results outside of the top 10. He finished in 11th place in the final standings.

Paired with his fifth crew chief in his career, Chris Gabehart, Hamlin roared out of the gates in 2019 by winning the 61st running of the Daytona 500 in February as he claimed his second 500 triumph and snapped a 47-race winless drought dating back to September 2017. The 500 victory was an emotional one for Hamlin and team owner Joe Gibbs, whose son and JGR’s co-owner, J.D., had died a month prior to the season and who played an instrumental role in recruiting Hamlin to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Six races later, the Virginia veteran claimed his second victory of the season at Texas in March. Hamlin went on to win at Pocono in July and the Bright Night Race in August before making his 13th career appearance as a Cup Playoff contender. During the first half of the 2019 Playoffs, Hamlin earned four top-five results, including a victory at Kansas in October, that enabled him to advance from the Round of 16 to the Round of 8. During this round, he was involved in an off-track skirmish with Logano at Martinsville and settled in 28th place at Texas due to an early spin, which placed him in jeopardy of missing the Championship Round finale at Homestead in November. Nonetheless, Hamlin executed his opportunity at the right timing by winning at Phoenix for his sixth victory of the season and to clinch a spot to the finale. However, while he appeared to have a championship-winning run established during the finale, his title hopes evaporated late after he made an unscheduled pit stop to address overheating issues to his No. 11 Toyota. When the checkered flag waved, Hamlin settled in 10th place on the track and in fourth place in the final standings as teammate Kyle Busch captured his second title. Nonetheless, the 2019 Cup season was a successful one for Hamlin, who earned six victories, three poles, a career-high 19 top-five results, 24 top-10 results and an average-finishing result of 9.5. In addition, he surpassed 500 Cup career starts.

The following season, Hamlin earned his third Daytona 500 career victory and the second in a row after narrowly escaping a vicious accident involving Ryan Newman on the final lap to edge Ryan Blaney by 0.014 seconds, which marks the second-closest margin of victory in the 500. After earning a rain-shortened victory at Darlington in May and a dominant win at Homestead in June, Hamlin tallied his career victories in the Cup Series to 40. He went on to win at Pocono in June, Kansas in July and at Dover in August before qualifying for the 2020 Cup Playoffs. Emerging as a championship threat, Hamlin earned three top-10 results throughout the Playoffs, including a win at Talladega in October, that enabled him to transfer all the way to the Round of 8. He ended up earning another trip to the Championship Round finale at Phoenix in November and was given another opportunity to claim his elusive first Cup title. During the finale, however, he was never a factor for the title battle as he finished in fourth place both on the track and in the final standings. Despite this, Hamlin’s seven victories earned in 2020 were the most he earned in a Cup season since winning eight times in 2010 as he also improved his average-finishing result of 9.3.

Making a bid to become the first competitor to win three consecutive Daytona 500s while also becoming a co-owner of 23XI Racing in 2021, Hamlin commenced the season with a fifth-place run during the 500. He then endured an up-and-down, consistent season, where he earned a total of 13 top-five results and 17 top-10 results throughout the 26-race regular season stretch. He also led the points standings for nearly the entire regular season stretch before being overtaken by Kyle Larson. During the 2021 Cup Playoff opener at Darlington in September, Hamlin stormed back to the main headlines after fending off Larson to snap a season-long winless spell and earn a one-way ticket to the Round of 12. He went on to transfer to the Round of 8 after winning at Las Vegas in September and emerging victorious as a car owner with driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega in October. During the Round of 8, Hamlin earned respective finishes of 11th, fifth and 24th. This included a late run-in with Alex Bowman at Martinsville in October, where Bowman spun Hamlin in the final laps while battling for the win and resulted with Hamlin pulling his car in front of Bowman’s following the event to express his displeasure. In the midst of the incident, Hamlin made the Championship Round for a third consecutive season. His title hopes for 2021, however, diminished as he finished in third place both during the finale and in the final standings. Nonetheless, Hamlin managed to tie his career-best top-five results earned at 19 while achieving a career-high 25 top-10 results and a career-best average-finishing result of 8.4.

Through 599 previous Cup starts, Hamlin has achieved 48 victories, 36 poles, 201 top-five results, 310 top-10 results, 13,041 laps led and an average-finishing result of 13.3. He has achieved two victories through the first 21-scheduled events of 2022: Richmond in April and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May. He initially won last weekend’s Cup event at Pocono, but his victory was stripped due to a post-race inspection failure that demoted him to 35th place of the 36-car field. Despite being ranked in 21st place in the regular-season standings, he is currently guaranteed a spot in the 2022 Cup Playoffs based on his two regular-season victories.

Hamlin is scheduled to make his 600th Cup Series career start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on Sunday, July 31, with the event’s coverage to occur at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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