Amidst Bubba Wallace’s Changing Playoff Storyline, Boss Denny Hamlin’s Achilles Heel Threatens Championship Hopes

Published 09/29/2023, 1:31 PM EDT

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If we ever stumble upon Denny Hamlin’s wishlist, it’s a safe bet that topping the list would be his yearning to shake off the “championship less” tag. With an impressive 18-year tenure in the NASCAR world, Hamlin’s consistent performance in numerous Cup Series championships is undeniable. Yet, despite his exceptional track record, a championship title remains elusive, leaving a void in his racing résumé.

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But the winds of change seem to be blowing in 2023. This season, with just a few exceptions, sees Hamlin regularly crossing the finish line among the top contenders. But as the second race of the second playoff round casts its long shadow, questions hang in the air. The race, where his teammate Bubba Wallace showcased remarkable skills in April 2023, might prove to be a thorn in Hamlin’s side. Will this be another chapter in his tale of near misses, or will Hamlin finally break the jinx and claim his long-deserved title?

Can Denny Hamlin conquer the dragon of his least preferred tracks?

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Denny Hamlin’s last face-off with Talladega saw him clinch the pole position, only to finish at P17. Conversely, his 23XI teammate Bubba Wallace, after a surprising ascent to 2nd from a 12th-place start, tumbled to 28th after a minor contact with Ryan Blaney. Despite Hamlin’s consistent top-10 finishes in recent Talladega races, his average position lingers at 12.0, casting a shadow of doubt over the JGR favorite’s chances.

Currently, Hamlin’s name is conspicuously absent from NASCAR analysts’ predictions for winners or top-10s for the track, likely owing to his average finish. Coupled with Bubba Wallace’s upward trajectory in recent races, culminating in finishes of P7, P32, P14, and P3 at Darlington, Kansas, Bristol, and Texas, respectively, Talladega stands as a potential stumbling block for Hamlin. Even a win from his own team, while a point of pride, may not slake his thirst for personal victory.

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The echoing roars of Talladega’s asphalt jungle threaten to dampen Hamlin’s championship aspirations for 2023. Besides that, the looming YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway holds little promise in his eyes, perhaps aware of the unpredictable tides of fortune that await in the race’s heated moments.

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As it stands, William Byron is the sole driver with a secure spot in the round of 8. With the remaining 11 drivers in hot pursuit of victory, Hamlin’s expectations are grim when it comes to the super-speedway showdown.

As per on3.com, sharing his candid thoughts on his podcast, Actions Detrimental, Hamlin expressed his apprehensions: “We’re going to Talladega now. It’s going to be, I don’t know. I thought Daytona would be a s*it show; it didn’t really turn out to be as much. I guess I’ll call this week another s*it show.”

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Failing to Retain Michael Jordan’s Crown, “Choked” Bubba Wallace Could Outclass Denny Hamlin Amidst Changing Playoff Narrative

Talladega perennially throws down the gauntlet with its unique challenges, and the upcoming Sunday’s event promises no deviation from the norm. Hamlin is bracing for turmoil, and all eyes will be on the unfolding spectacle, particularly observing his own driver, Bubba Wallace, who’s been steadily upping the ante with each race.

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Written by:

Neha Dwivedi

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One take at a time

Neha Dwivedi is a NASCAR Writer for EssentiallySports. Her ability to capture the spirit of the exhilarating races and relay the enthusiasm to her readers distinguishes her as a sports journalist. Neha's articles strike a nice balance between technical accuracy and story-telling.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

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