Denny Hamlin recently broke Junior Johnson’s record for most NASCAR Cup Series wins without a championship. He is hoping to return it.
The round of 8 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is scheduled to get underway this Sunday afternoon with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For the fifth year in a row, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin enters the semifinal round with a chance to advance to the Championship 4.
Hamlin is in his 18th season as a full-time Cup Series driver, but he is still seeking that elusive championship. An eight-win season in 2010 resulted in a runner-up finish, a six-win season in 2019 resulted in disappointing fourth place finish in the Championship 4, and a seven-win season in 2020 resulted in the same.
Last year, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota missed the Championship 4 for the first time since 2018, when he was winless and failed to get out of the opening round.
But his recent performance has led many to believe that perhaps 2023 could really be his year.
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is issuing an instant $200 to fans who bet $5 on any driver to win this year’s title, lists Hamlin with the third shortest odds behind Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson.
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If Denny Hamlin is able to win this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship, he would return a record he recently broke.
With 51 career wins, Hamlin sits in 13th place on the all-time wins list. But all 12 drivers ahead of him have won championships.
When Hamlin secured his 51st career victory last month at Bristol Motor Speedway, he broke the late Junior Johnson’s record for most wins without a championship.
Johnson, whose 50 wins have him tied for 14th on the all-time list with Ned Jarrett, never ran the full schedule. In fact, he only competed in more than half of the races in seven of his 14 seasons in the series.
Among drivers who competed full-time, Mark Martin had had the most wins without a championship with 40 until Hamlin’s seven-win 2020 season put him four wins ahead.
While Hamlin has said before that he won’t judge his career based on whether or not he wins a championship, given the playoff format, and will be content knowing his win total is as high as it is, it is becoming more and more clear that he is in it to win it this year.
He will certainly be looking to shed the title of winningest non-champion in NASCAR Cup Series history, and returning it to Johnson within two months of securing that record-breaking 51st win would be preferable.
Tune in to NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, October 15 for the live broadcast of the round of 8-opening South Point 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Start a free trial of FuboTV today if you have not already done so!