NASCAR: The case for — and against — all 16 playoff drivers

NASCAR Cup Series Championship Trophy - Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Trophy - Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /
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Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR – Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

NASCAR playoff contenders: No. 3 – Denny Hamlin

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin had a whirlwind of a regular season in 2023 that has seen him pick up two wins and pull some controversial moves in the process. Now he is looking to finally win a coveted first championship that he has come so close to winning several times in the past.

The case for Denny Hamlin

When he’s not winning, Hamlin is often running near the front of the pack. While he did have a bit of a slow start to the season, he looks to have found his groove and is ready to potentially pick up a handful of wins in the 2023 playoffs.

In the six most recent races, Hamlin has recorded four top five finishes, including a win, two second place finishes, and a third place finish. As per usual, Hamlin and the No. 11 team have had some extremely fast cars at both intermediate tracks and short tracks this season, and with most of the playoff races set to be run on those types of tracks, Hamlin is among the drivers who benefit most from the schedule.

With the speed Hamlin has had as of late, it appears that he has a very good shot at making his fifth career Championship 4 appearance.

The case against Denny Hamlin

The playoffs have not been kind to Hamlin in the past. Despite having several years in which he was among the top drivers or had all of the momentum going into the championship race, he has failed to capture a title. Last season, he looked set to make his fourth straight Championship 4 appearance but was eliminated as a result of Ross Chastain’s wall ride at Martinsville Speedway.

And in some instances, Hamlin has been his own worst enemy this season. For example, he was issued a 25-point penalty following the race at Phoenix Raceway after he admitted to intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on his Actions Detrimental podcast. Then he drew the ire of many in the garage during his Pocono Raceway win, as he shoved Kyle Larson into the fence while racing for the lead.

With the intensity ratcheting up big time in the playoffs, Hamlin causing another incident could cause some form of retaliation, plus a subsequent early elimination.