NASCAR: Denny Hamlin facing interesting conundrum at Daytona

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Coke Zero Sugar 400, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Coke Zero Sugar 400, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Denny Hamlin sits lower in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings than his No. 11 team does in the owner standings. But he can still win the regular season championship in both.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin enters the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway sitting in second place in the point standings, 39 points behind teammate Martin Truex Jr. His No. 11 team also sits in second in the owner standings, but only 14 points behind Truex’s No. 19 team.

This discrepancy goes back to the March race at Phoenix Raceway, after which Hamlin admitted that he intentionally drove Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain into the wall following an overtime restart.

Hamlin, who had long stated that some of the younger Cup Series drivers need to learn their lesson, had a history of on-track run-ins with Chastain from 2022. Knowing that he was on older tires compared to several drivers behind him and was thus poised to lose several spots anyway, he decided to take Chastain with him.

NASCAR did not penalize Denny Hamlin’s move itself, but they penalized the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for admitting that the move was intentional.

Hamlin, who was docked 25 points, made the admission on his Actions Detrimental podcast.

A 25-point penalty doesn’t seem all that significant, given the fact that the point totals of all playoff drivers get reset to start each round of the postseason. Plus, Hamlin’s penalty did not carry a direct playoff point deduction.

However, considering the fact that it could be the difference between winning the regular season championship and finishing in second (or third) place, it could end up costing him several playoff points, since additional playoff points are awarded to the top 10 drivers in the standings on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale at the end of the regular season.

Hamlin still believes that he can win the regular season championship, though he needs everything to go his way in Saturday night’s 160-lap Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida oval.

“I think it’s manageable, but I’m gonna have to have everything fall my way, honestly,” Hamlin admitted to Beyond the Flag. “Martin’s gonna have to have a tough day, so I think my biggest thing is just, I’m gonna put myself in the best position to try to win the race. If I can get 50-plus points throughout the day with stages in total, I think I give myself a chance.

“We’re actually a lot closer with our car than I am personally as a driver, which is weird to say, but either way I think that we can certainly nestle it down a little bit today, and hopefully when the checkered falls, we look up and we’re up at the top, because winning a race would ultimately be the same difference [five playoff points] in us finishing first or second in the regular season.”

Should he end up missing out on the regular season title by less than 25 points, that would obviously be a bit frustrating for Hamlin, since the difference would literally be an episode on his podcast.

However, such a result would also mean that his No. 11 team would win the regular season owner championship.

When Hamlin was penalized in the driver standings, the No. 11 team itself was not penalized in the owner standings. So his team could end up winning the regular season owner championship, while Truex ends up winning the regular season driver championship.

For Hamlin personally, he would like any potential runner-up finish in the regular season standings to come by more than 25 points so that his penalty doesn’t prove costly. But he is well aware of the owner championship implications as well.

“I do – I do and I don’t, because I still want — I’m still out there performing for Joe Gibbs Racing, and that’s a big part of what I do, and any title that I could give for Joe Gibbs Racing, it would be big, and so I want to try to do it,” he admitted.

“I’ve been in the race car every race for this regular season, and if our car were to win, it means that we did a good enough job to win, so I’m really proud to have that opportunity — and I’m optimistic. We’ll see how it plays out, but a lot of this stuff on these types of tracks is out of your control. But I’m going to control what I can and hopefully the chips fall our way.”

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving fans a guaranteed $200 just for signing up and betting $5 on the Coke Zero Sugar 400, lists Hamlin at +1200, making him the second favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona.

With odds and availability always subject to change, lock in your guaranteed $200 now before it’s too late!

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NBC is set to air the Coke Zero Sugar 400 live from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 26. If you have yet to start a free trial of FuboTV, do so today!