NASCAR: The surprising driver closest to Denny Hamlin’s ‘record’

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images) /

Every single active full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver with more than 10 wins is a former champion except Denny Hamlin — with 51.

Despite the fact that the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season was said to be “his year”, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin again walked away without a championship. His title bid in year number 18 ultimately came up shy when he was eliminated in the round of 8 of the playoffs.

Hamlin broke an all-time record when he won at Bristol Motor Speedway in September. After his July victory at Pocono Raceway, he was tied with Junior Johnson atop the all-time wins list among drivers without a championship. His 51st career win put him on top of that list alone.

Some would argue that he held this unwanted record since 2020, when he passed Mark Martin with his 41st career victory, since Johnson never ran a full season. In fact, in only seven of his 14 seasons did he compete in more than half the races.

Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney became the third new champion in the last four seasons on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, and all three clinched their championships with fewer than 20 victories.

Blaney did it with 10, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson did it with 16, and 2020 champion Chase Elliott did it with 11.

Combined, that total is 14 wins shy of Hamlin’s career win total without a title. To this day, those three drivers have 51 combined wins, level with Hamlin.

And that’s not the worst part for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota.

Ironically, because Blaney didn’t actually win the season finale to secure the title and still sits at 10 career wins, his championship didn’t directly impact this next stat.

But among active full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers, all drivers with more than 10 victories are series champions except for Hamlin, who has more than quintupled that total.

That’s a long list of drivers at this point as well, even without Blaney on it.

Kyle Busch owns 63 wins and is a two-time champion. Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. both own a title they clinched with 15 career wins or less, and they now own 35 and 34 victories, respectively. Joey Logano, a 32-time winner, is a two-time champion. Larson now owns 23 trips to victory lane while Elliott owns 18.

Among active full-time drivers, the next highest non-champion on the all-time wins list is William Byron, whose career win total of 10 is 41 shy of Hamlin’s.

Byron is the only other full-time driver with double-digit wins who has never become champion, and we can even cut him some slack, considering the fact that he just qualified for the Championship 4 for the first time in his career with a six-win season. He entered the year with four wins in five years.

A win total of 41 on its own would be good enough for a top 20 spot on the all-time wins list, champion or not, and that is what separates Hamlin from the next closest driver on this list.

Let’s go one step further.

After Byron, you have Alex Bowman with seven wins, Christopher Bell with six, Chris Buescher and Tyler Reddick each with five, and Austin Dillon and Ross Chastain each with four. A.J. Allmendinger, Erik Jones, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all have three while Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace have two. Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley and Austin Cindric have one.

Including Byron, that’s 58 total wins, only seven more than Hamlin alone.

While Hamlin has said on multiple occasions that he won’t judge his career as a success or a failure based on whether or not he wins a championship, given the fact that the playoff format is what it is, it is clearer now than it has ever been that he wants to add a title to his resume.

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

Will the 2024 season actually be Hamlin’s year, or will he end up retiring as the all-time winningest non-champion in NASCAR Cup Series history? If the latter, it’s a title — not a championship — he will hold for a very long time.