As legendary as he is, Jeff Gordon can’t make this claim. As popular as he is, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can’t come close to making this claim. Neither can Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards.
Denny Hamlin has never gone a full calendar season without winning at least one race. That puts the Virginian in the rarefied air of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and even Tony Stewart, who managed to reel off one victory before his unfortunate injury last summer. How many of you knew this? It would not be a surprise to learn that some of you might be surprised by this little factoid. When talking about the great drivers of this era, Hamlin is not the first guy you think of. Popularity? Denny Hamlin can be an emotional guy, and as often as not, that emotion has created the negative perception of Hamlin as “Denny Downer.”
While Hamlin’s not at the head of the class in today’s NASCAR, perhaps he should be. With his win at Talledega, he can now boast a points race victory at a superspeedway (Hamlin also won the Sprint Unlmited and a Budweiser Duel in February.) This adds to a resume that includes such signature tracks as Bristol, Darlington, Martinsville, and Richmond. Add to that victories at Texas, Atlanta, Michigan and his dominance at Pocono, and you have a sparkling track record of 19 wins in seven-plus seasons.
Two things would cement his legacy as one of the best to ever climb into a race car. One, would be a road course victory, as hard as those are to attain. Hamlin’s best finish at Sonoma is fifth, and “Hambone” has a second to his credit at Watkins Glen.
More importantly, Hamlin needs a championship. Then the argument of greatness becomes a slam dunk. He made a tremendous run at Jimmie Johnson in 2010, and he came up just short. He also finished third in his rookie season of 2006 and has finished sixth once.
He’s a proven winner, but he can be streaky. Of his 19 wins, 13 have come from two seasons, 2010 and 2012. Before winning Sunday, Hamlin had a pedestrian run of three top twenties and a 22nd place finish at Darlington coming into Alabama. No doubt, some of it is on Toyota for some maddening technical issues, some of it is on Joe Gibbs Racing, but to be fair, Hamlin has been his own worst enemy a time or two.
While he’s never been a champion, make no mistake that Denny Hamlin is a winner. Imagine being a fan of his: you can boast that your driver must always be accounted for. It’s obviously not something every race fan can say about their favorites.