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Denny Hamlin Expands His Fandom Through Baseball Legend’s Allegiance: “That’s a Champion”

Published 04/11/2024, 3:13 PM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

When you hear boos in any NASCAR Cup race presently, they are usually directed toward just one driver. Denny Hamlin reigns supreme as NASCAR’s villain, and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver takes pride in it. He famously said after his on-track feud with Kyle Larson in Pocono last year: “Fandom doesn’t give me trophies”.

But the tides are changing. ‘NASCAR: Full Speed’ premiered in January this year, with Hamlin as the star of the Netflix show. This global exposure drew fans across borders. Denny Hamlin saw an uptick in social media followers from New Zealand, for instance. Now Hamlin fans are popping up across sporting fields as well.

Denny Hamlin receives love from baseball

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NASCAR fans love their idols and would boo anyone trying to topple them. So Denny Hamlin’s on-track run-in with Chase Elliott did not gel well with the most popular driver’s fans. The same goes for Pocono last year when Hamlin shoved race leader Kyle Larson into the wall to snatch the trophy.

But Hamlin does not care, as his priorities are set straight. “I had to race hard for a win. Was I going to let off and give him all this extra room? Absolutely not. No way,” he said after Pocono.

And Hamlin’s relentless attitude is why a baseball veteran recently pledged allegiance to him. The World Series champion, Joe Girardi is also an avid NASCAR fan. Talking to Kevin Harvick, Girardi shared how most of his idols are off the tracks now. “Well, my favorite driver is retired. I’m learning to like the new drivers because so many of the guys I cheered for are retired, and that happens.”

Then Girardi chipped in with a Denny Hamlin appreciation snippet. Even though Hamlin is not yet a champion, Girardi labeled him as one. “You know, I like Denny Hamlin. He’s always in the mix, no matter what. That’s exciting to me, ’cause that’s a champion, a guy that’s always in the mix.”

Girardi hinted at Hamlin taking up his idol’s spot while taking an affectionate dig at Harvick. “But there’s so many good young drivers now that I just need to get to know. I didn’t really have to root for anyone else, because I used to root for Kevin Harvick all the time. But now, I gotta find a new love.”

Harvick and Girardi’s companionship goes way back, as the former had helped Girardi understand NASCAR.

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The points system boggled Girardi

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A part of the reason why Joe Girardi is a NASCAR fan and now follows Denny Hamlin might lie with Kevin Harvick. Back in 2011, Girardi had scratched his head about the motorsport’s points system. After congratulating Harvick for his 2010 season, Girardi said: “I don’t understand how you have the best year and not win. I don’t understand your points system.”

Then Kevin Harvick took it upon himself to advocate for a simpler system. And accordingly, NASCAR adopted a 43-1 system. Harvick said: “For me, I think if you look at the new points system, it’s very easy to understand. And those are the people who need to understand it, the people who are not here every week, live it, breathe it, and really understand how the sport works”.

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Thanks to Harvick’s efforts, Joe Girardi continues with his NASCAR passion, while rooting for the sport’s current villain.

Read More: Denny Hamlin Urges Goodyear and NASCAR to Follow Formula 1’s Approach to Better the Next Gen Car

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Written by:

Sumedha Mukherjee

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Sumedha Mukherjee is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports who is known for her in-depth track analysis as well as her lifestyle coverage of Cup drivers like Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Inspired by the Kiwi's journey so far, Sumedha has also written pieces on Shane Van Gisbergen, predicting how the Supercars Champion would do in the new and unfamiliar American setting. Pairing her research skills with her vast experience as a writer, Sumedha creates stories her readers can easily get lost in.
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Edited by:

Shreya Singh