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USA Today via Reuters

USA Today via Reuters

The 2006 NASCAR Rookie Class has gifted the fans some of the most diverse drivers (and even a FOX broadcaster). Although only one of those future stars fatefully claimed a championship in 2017 with Martin Truex Jr, his teammate Denny Hamlin & former rival Clint Bowyer make exceptional arguments themselves based on the pure racing accolades garnered 18 years ago.

But with the track comfortable in Clint’s rearview, he has never hesitated to stir the pot from the media centers, even for his two peers, who are still racing full-time in the Cup Series. However, his only active ‘classmate’ still itching for an inaugural Bill France trophy seems to be in a desirable spot for his own, one more time. And if things work out well, this could indeed end up being Denny Hamlin’s year, a claim he made to Bowyer only a few weeks ago in Kansas.

From Bowyer’s baiting to Pockrass’ pressing: Can Denny Hamlin handle the heat?

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As it stands, the trio boasts 98 combined wins in the Cup Series. With Bowyer happily settled into the broadcast booth alongside another rival, Kevin Harvick, a limited chance remains to cross over that 100 mark. But taking things into 2024 perspectives, either MTJ or Denny’s red hot forms in their Joe Gibbs cars could, well, in fact, fulfill the ‘century’ prophecy by the end of this year. It is still hard to predict Bowyer’s reaction on-air when that feat is finally achieved.

Nevertheless, his dedicated involvement in these historic developments shines bright, considering the 2008 Busch Series champ appears expectant of a Denny Hamlin ‘calling’ his championship finally in 2024 since the #11 called his Dover win on Actions Detrimental.

The following week, in his hometown of Kansas, Bowyer probed Denny before some ran-delayed excitement for a pre-race segment, “Would you tell people that it’s finally this year is the year that you’re going to win the championship?” To which a hesitant Hamlin had answered at the time, “This is it… This is the year it’s going to happen.”

Moving on from this interaction, Denny Hamlin would round off the top 5 in a record-breaking Kansas encounter that produced the closest-ever finish in NASCAR history. But as the winningest Toyota driver till now with three victories, he has been backing up the bark with all the bite, boasting his best-ever start in the season’s first thirteen races, since 2010. The #11 finished 2nd behind Jimmie Johnson in the championship ‘Chase’ that opportune season. 

Heading to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend, Denny is coming off back-to-back top-5 finishes, and his confidence resonates gold within the garages. Interestingly, Bowyer’s all-important question a few weeks ago was brought to light by Bob Pockrass when he asked Hamlin, ” Our Clint Bowyer during a prerace show a few weeks ago cornered you to say that this is going to be your year to win the title… Is this going to be your year? Do you still feel that way? ” In his usual calm and resolute manner, Denny would tell the FOX journalist, I feel pretty strong about our chances for sure. Certainly, it is a little different when you get put under the gun like that for sure. But you know, until I feel differently, then I will let you know.”

 

Pockrass followed up on his initial question to inquire if Hamlin felt Clint Bowyer did a better job as an interviewer than as a race-car driver. Hamlin then threw a good-natured jab at the man who finished 68 points behind him for the 2006 ROTY award. I think TV Clint is trying to find some drama,” declared Hamlin with a chuckle.

The Joe Gibbs juggernaut is heading to Charlotte

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Graced by broadcast debutant Kevin Harvick’s presence in the booth alongside Bowyer and evergreen Mike Joy, FOX’s commentary has arguably been a breath of fresh air in recent times. Coupled with the constant banter between the former drivers, audibly ‘at it’ against each other, the not-too-serious expert insights must receive their due credit where credit is overdue.

On-track, however, Denny has been phenomenal in leading Coach Gibbs’ race team’s charge against Rick Hendrick & Co.’s early season dominance. With three registered race wins already in 2024, Denny has now effectively locked in a playoff berth, alongside HMS’ very own hat-trick winner, William Byron. Additionally, Hamlin’s prophecies and words appear to hold an almost supernatural weight this year. From his Dover victory prophecy to NASCAR picking up on his idea for an in-season ‘bracket tournament,’ the #11 driver has been a true force of nature so far this season.

Regardless, he remains unfazed by any complacency creeping in heading to the playoffs. Discouraging any claims of “peaking early” to Pockrass as the conversations unfolded, Hamlin outlines, “There’s no such thing as peaking early because right now there’s 17 or 18 playoff points that we’ve got in our pocket. So we’ll continue to take all those that we can get leading into the playoffs.”

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USA Today via Reuters

Considering Denny Hamlin has ‘called’ his fortunes for a championship, or lack thereof, at least one other time begs the question: will the #11 be unsuccessful, albeit a little embarrassingly again this season? Those are only speculations, but with the Coca-Cola 600 coming up around the corner, he will surely be hopeful of no repeat in fortunes from last year after crashing out alongside Chase Elliott on lap 185.