NASCAR: Different year, same narrative, same result?

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

“This is Denny Hamlin’s year” is what we’ve been hearing from all of the NASCAR experts over the last two months. Yet it seems like another case of here we go again.

With his victory at Bristol Motor Speedway to conclude the opening round of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin broke the record for the most career victories without a championship, breaking the tie he had been in with 50-race winner Junior Johnson.

Johnson never actually competed full-time, only running more than half of the races in seven of his 14 seasons in the sport, so Hamlin had technically held the record among title-contending drivers since 2020, when he passed Mark Martin (40).

After the Bristol race — and even heading into that race — everybody was talking about this finally being Hamlin’s year. He had shown speed, consistency, poise, confidence, and determination to finally end his championship drought in his 18th season in the sport, and he was putting it all together at the right time to the extent that nobody and nothing could interfere.

It’s only about the fourth or fifth time NASCAR fans have been fed that narrative.

Whether it be his eight-win season in 2010, his six-win, Daytona 500-winning season in 2019 that came after a winless 2018 campaign, his seven-win, Daytona 500-winning season in 2020, or his 2021 season which saw consistency and pace similar to that of what he has shown in 2023, it has been Hamlin’s “year” before, and it’s always turned out the same way: unused social media “Denny Hamlin champion” graphics, and another driver crowned.

Hamlin’s championship aspirations are far from shot, but Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway continued that disappointing saga when a mechanical failure led to a DNF, leaving him three drivers and 17 points below the Championship 4 cut line with just one more race remaining in the round of 8.

In 2010, he led the standings after the penultimate race and lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson in the season finale.

Hamlin was the only driver to qualify for every Championship 4 from 2019 to 2021, yet his laps led total in those three Championship 4 races (two) matched that of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who wasn’t even a playoff driver in any of those three years.

Then in 2022, he missed the Championship 4 due to Ross Chastain’s “Hail Melon” move at Martinsville Speedway to end the round of 8 — though as it turns out, he would have missed regardless, due to another driver’s ensuing disqualification and the points effects associated with it.

Now here we are in 2023, and it seems as though the next chapter of the story is already being written. Can Hamlin change the narrative before it’s too late?

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving out $200 bonuses to fans who bet $5, lists Hamlin as the fifth favorite to win this year’s title at +1100.

Odds and availability are subject to change, so lock in your $200 now!

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The lone remaining round of 8 race, the Xfinity 500, is scheduled to take place this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. ET at Martinsville Speedway. NBC is set to provide live coverage, so begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!