Hamlin’s continued pursuit of a championship has been ‘a grind’
Denny Hamlin’s quest for a NASCAR Cup Sequence championship has been elusive and, at instances over the past decade, irritating.
Hamlin, 42, is without doubt one of the greatest the game has seen who doesn’t have a title. After the primary spherical of the 2023 postseason, he’s nonetheless in competition for the championship, and bolstered his possibilities of incomes a spot as one of many remaining 4 drivers with a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. And within the course of, Hamlin maintained that this 12 months is his 12 months.
“Definitely, this 12 months is completely different,” Hamlin stated. “I advised you guys earlier than the playoffs began, this 12 months simply feels completely different with the capabilities of our crew and the pace we’re exhibiting.”
Hamlin posted the identical message on X with pictures from victory lane: “It’s our 12 months.”
Maybe the seventeenth time within the postseason would be the allure. Hamlin has been a full-time Cup Sequence competitor since 2006, and simply as soon as has he not been within the playoffs. In 2013, Hamlin didn’t earn a spot after lacking 4 races after fracturing a vertebra in his again in March in a crash at Auto Membership Speedway.
Because the begin of the elimination format and winner-take-all season finale, he has made 4 Championship 4 appearances. On three completely different events, he’s completed both second or third within the championship standings.
It’s Hamlin’s perception that if he retains knocking lengthy sufficient, the door to a championship will open. However he additionally doesn’t deny how exhausting the pursuit has been 12 months after 12 months.
“It’s a grind, for positive,” Hamlin stated. “(Chris Gabehart) stated it, it’s important to love the sport. I nonetheless adore it. I very nicely may get knocked out the subsequent spherical or the subsequent spherical after which this 12 months is, oh, we failed once more. However I nonetheless adore it. I really like the method it takes to return to the racetrack and be quickest in apply and quickest in qualifying and win the race. It takes numerous work and it takes numerous dedication.
“Often, at this level of most likely driver’s careers, they begin not loving it as a lot since you simply obtained a lot different stuff happening. However I’m a competitor and I really like competing. At 42, I really like this sport as a lot as I ever have, and what it takes to seek out an edge. It was again within the day, Joe would simply construct me a quicker automobile than everybody else. We’d provide you with a brand new trick chassis and simply smoke everybody. I didn’t should put in a complete lot of labor; you simply form of depend on the quick automobile.
“Now, with every thing widespread, the motive force’s the No. 1 X-factor in your efficiency week in, week out. That may be a reality. So, it’s on my shoulders to seek out the perimeters, discover the grey areas of the place can I get higher. The place are my deficits? I get pleasure from that course of.”
Hamlin averaged a 9.3 end within the first spherical. However he had the chance to win all three races had he not been thwarted by a unfastened wheel at Darlington Raceway whereas working second, and a warning with seven laps to go whereas main at Kansas Speedway. He led 382 laps within the first spherical.
In his postseason profession, Hamlin has led over 4,200 laps. Though he didn’t qualify for the championship race final season, his 6.6 common end within the postseason was the most effective of his profession.
There have been 33 completely different winners within the Cup Sequence playoffs since its inaugural season (2004). Hamlin has received 13 instances within the postseason, which is the third most of any driver behind Jimmie Johnson (29) and Kevin Harvick (16).
“It’s completely different for positive,” Hamlin stated of the satisfaction of successful within the postseason in comparison with the common season. “That is completely different than if we might have received Darlington as a result of even after Darlington, you continue to obtained work to do on this spherical. I feel a few years in the past, we received the primary race within the first two rounds, so we had 4 races the place we have been form of let’s transfer on and work on the subsequent tracks within the subsequent spherical.
“Proper now, we’re within the grind of, we’re week to week up till this week, the place we felt fairly locked in. However it’s completely different. Profitable within the playoffs is completely different as a result of you recognize that everybody, all of the drivers, are as targeted as they’ve ever been. The groups are bringing the most effective. They’re placing as a lot time as they’ve ever put in all season lengthy and when you may get the most effective of them, you recognize you probably did your job that week.”