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As Denny Hamlin Gloats His Win at Bristol This Black Fact Will Surely Damper His Moral

Published 09/17/2023, 5:55 PM EDT

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NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award may have eluded Denny Hamlin, a reality he openly admitted, stating, “At some point, I got to realize 18 years in that I’m probably not going to win the Most Popular Driver award.” Nonetheless, as the crescendo of anticipation for the 2023 championship swells, can Hamlin rally and seize the coveted prize? With the ultimate verdict awaiting a few more months, a different record now haunts Hamlin, one he’d rather consign to oblivion.

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Despite a potent car and delivering stellar performances in the last two playoff races at Darlington and Kansas, where victory tantalizingly danced just out of his reach, Hamlin ultimately triumphed at Bristol. The elimination race at Bristol bore witness to Hamlin’s triumphant romp to Victory Lane. Yet, amidst the boos and champagne, Hamlin unwittingly etched his name into a record book few dare to embrace.

Denny Hamlin’s unwanted record amidst the elusive championship title


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Hamlin marked his 50th career victory at ‘The Tricky Triangle’. The pulse-pounding duel saw him locking horns with Hendrick Motorsports‘ Kyle Larson, ultimately securing the checkered flag. Hamlin’s 51st career win was no less electrifying, this time unfolding on the storied Bristol oval. However, the one thing consistent between these two victories was the chorus of boos that cascaded down upon Hamlin as he stood in the victory lane, his triumphant moment marred by vocal dissent.

Unfazed, Hamlin retorted, “I beat your favorite driver.” Before walking away with an air of self-assuredness, he quipped, “All of ’em.” True to his word, Hamlin did beat them, but the record was largely uncontested. Amid the boos, a glaring statistic dims Hamlin’s glory. With 51 wins and no championship, Denny Hamlin now holds the unenviable title of the all-time most-winningest Cup driver without a championship title.


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This unwelcome record finds Hamlin surpassing Junior Johnson, who notched 50 wins, and Mark Martin, with 49 in a career that spanned 14 seasons. Junior Johnson never competed full-time, further highlighting Hamlin’s championship drought. Despite 17 years in the sport, Hamlin’s highest championship standing remains 2nd place in 2010. 

However, considering the context of Hamlin’s career, the recent playoff format changes since 2014 don’t truly reflect Hamlin’s full-season prowess. Had this format existed in Hamlin’s rookie 2006 season, his championship-less record might not have stood.

A tantalizing rookie season ‘what if’ for Hamlin

Back in 2006, the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series was the battleground where Hamlin embarked on his inaugural full-time season in NASCAR’s upper echelons, under the banner of Joe Gibbs Racing. The stage for the climactic showdown of that year’s racing saga was set at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, a venue now synonymous with the Championship 4 race in today’s playoff format.

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If we transpose the contemporary playoff structure onto the canvas of 2006, the Championship 4 at Homestead would have featured Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and the rookie, Denny Hamlin. While Johnson had dominated the season, securing the championship with ease in the conventional format, the narrative would have been vastly different had Homestead played the role of the title decider as it does today.


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In that final race, Johnson found himself in the ninth position, a far cry from his customary dominance. Matt Kenseth fared marginally better, settling for sixth place in the intense battle. In stark contrast, Hamlin clinched the third position. In a tantalizing “what if” scenario, considering today’s format 2006 could have witnessed a dual celebration for Hamlin, hoisting not only the Rookie of the Year award but also the coveted championship trophy. 


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But alas, in the unforgiving realm of reality, Hamlin still bears the weight of championship-less aspirations. Yet, as we stand on the cusp of 2023, he’s got the bravado, the confidence. Could this be the year when he finally secures the elusive title?

WATCH THIS STORY: Bubba Wallace Exposes Boss Denny Hamlin’s Black Lie In Pocono Feud



Rashi Shetty

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Rashi Shetty is a NASCAR author at EssentiallySports. Her passion for the sport extends beyond the thrill of on-track racing, as she finds the behind-the-scenes aspects of car development and sportsmanship equally captivating. Her favorite motorsports moment of 2023 is the NASCAR Garage 56 entry at Le Mans.

Edited By: Debmallya Chakraborty