In his rookie season, he won three races and finished third in the final points. In 2010, Denny Hamlin was arguably a pit stop away from winning a championship. In ten plus NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons, he’s finished outside the top ten twice, one of those a season where he missed four races with a broken back. In all, Hamlin has won 29 races at NASCAR’s top level and has never gone winless for a year, unless you count his seven start 2005 season.
Denny Hamlin is a winner. One wonders how many people truly know that.
Honestly, how many times do you hear Hambone’s name mentioned when discussing the top drivers of the current era. Oh yes, you’ll hear about Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, or Kevin Harvick. Come to think of it, Hamlin isn’t generally regarded as the best driver on his team. Either the aforementioned Busch will get the nod there. If you talk about the most respected driver at Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth’s name is brought up. Heck, as far as that goes, Carl Edwards gets more publicity than the 35-year old from Chesterfield, Virginia.
There may be any number of reasons for the snubbing Denny Hamlin gets. He drives a….a….Toyota for Heaven’s sake!!! Oh the horrors! Some will regard him as a bit of a whiner. One can remember occasions where Hamlin’s been perceived to throw his pit crew under the bus. He’s also gone rounds with other drivers on the track, and we know how that goes; if the driver you cross is more popular than you, then you’re the bad guy.
Let’s put popularity aside and consider the body of work that is Denny Hamlin’s career. Not only is he prolific in winning races, he’s a force to reckon with on a full range of tracks. While he’s won more than his share on the intermediates, Hamlin also boasts nine short track wins, a pair of super speedway victories, and let us not forget his win at Watkins Glen. We can’t call him a kid anymore, so let us say the man can drive.
So let me answer my own question: Denny Hamlin is the most underrated driver in NASCAR. He may not be so underrated if he wins a championship. He’s got wind in his sails, and JGR has been strong throughout 2016. This may be the year Hamlin gets that elusive title.