Denny Hamlin was in the exact same position last year, when he made it to the Phoenix following an awe-inspiring season, only to lose his shot at the title. They say we learn from our mistakes, and Hamlin will surely hope he has learned something from his five failed attempts of winning his first NASCAR Cup Series title.
How they got here: Wins, Top 5s, Top 10s
Hamlin was easily one of the most consistent drivers of the year, and while most of his success came early, the 40-year-old has proven that he still “has it” with strong placements in the latter stages of the season.
Hamlin started the season with an exceptional run of eight top-5s, having finished inside the top five in all but one (Homestead-Miami – 11th) of his first nine races. Hamlin has since cooled a bit and has managed only five top-5s in the next 17 races but bounced back with a win in Darlington.
That win was all Hamlin needed to get back on track as he accumulated four more top-5s and one more win (Las Vegas) by the end of the season. Admittedly, Hamlin could have done better midway through the season; however, he has shown a lot in the latter stages, finishing top-10 in all but two of the last nine races of the year.
2021 Stats and Finishes
- Wins: 2
- Top-5s: 18
- Top-10s: 24
Whether you like him, it’s fair to say that Hamlin is due for his first NASCAR Cup Series title. He came close to winning it five times before and was in the final four in the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, the 40-year-old couldn’t deliver when it mattered the most and finished both the 2019 and 2020 seasons in fourth. His best finish came in 2010 when Hamlin finished second to seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Past Record at Phoenix Raceway
Having been competing in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2006, Hamlin travels to Phoenix Raceway as the most experienced driver on the track, which is the home of some of his best and worst memories.
Across his career, Hamlin has made 32 starts on the track and has claimed two wins, most recently in the fall of 2019. Outside of that, he has 15 top-5s and 19 top-10s, with a solid 10.8 average finish. Beyond that, Hamlin has led 854 laps on the track.
Hamlin has the most wins, top-5s, top-10s, and the best average finish in Phoenix of the remaining four drivers with those stats. Even though Hamlin has the most starts on Phoenix of the final four, that does not take away from the fact that he consistently does well here.
Stats at Phoenix
- Starts: 32
- Top Finish: 1st (2012, 2019)
- Top-5s: 15
- Top-10s: 19
- Average Start: 9.8
- Average Finish: 10.8
Why Hamlin will win the title
Hamlin’s track record alone is a good reason why anyone should feel confident about his chances to win the championship. However, though he couldn’t match Kyle Larson’s success over the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, solid form does not necessarily mean success if you don’t do well on a particular track – and vice versa.
What’s more, Hamlin has been here five times before, so it’s fair to say he won’t feel as nervous as some other drivers might.
Why Hamlin won’t win the championship
Hamlin’s past appearances in the championship race can be viewed as a valuable experience, but at the same time, it also shows that Hamlin has had five chances to win the title but always found a way to let it slip.
Whether he was simply not good enough to take the final set or whether there’s some sort of a mental block that prevents him from succeeding is anyone’s guess, but there is something about Hamlin and season-culminating races.
Adding to that, Hamlin has not achieved as much as the current favorite, Larson and Chase Elliott, who both seem better prepared to win the race. Obviously, Hamlin has experience on his side, but that sometimes doesn’t mean much if you can’t deliver on the track.
Hamlin is priced at +275 to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Hamlin is priced as the third favorite to win the NASCAR Cup Series title, behind Elliott and Larson, which seems fair. There are things that work in Hamlin’s favor for this race, but admittedly, there are also plenty of reasons to doubt him.
Hamlin checks all the right boxes for the next champion – he has the experience, has proven that he can compete with the best, and was the most consistent driver of the year. Now it all comes down to execution, which Hamlin hasn’t been able to do in 2019 and 2020.