By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into the 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 13
Career Wins: 31
2017 was another season of consistency for Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 team, finishing the year sixth in points, but for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran and 2016 Daytona 500 champion, the focus turns to 2018 and trying to finally breakthrough for that elusive championship.
In 36 starts last year, Hamlin found himself in victory lane on two different occasions, with wins at New Hampshire and the Southern 500 at Darlington, even though the Darlington win was ruled as encumbered and didn’t actually count toward anything. Additionally, Hamlin finished in the top-five 15 times, scored 22 top-10 finishes, one pole, 710 laps led, and an average finish of 11.6.
“We’ve been very consistently good, but we obviously need to have a great year,” Hamlin said. “We need to have a year like 2010 or ’12 where we win more than five races and contend for championships. With this format, it’s a little bit different because the entire championship is based off of one race and not your whole body of work.
“I think last year we certainly had the correct champion as far as that’s concerned. He performed well throughout the entire season. But it all comes down to one race now, so how can you focus so much effort in the regular season, putting yourself in a good spot, and still know that it doesn’t matter if you don’t perform well at Homestead. I think it’s just taken us to the next level. I mean, I think we’re right there. We’re level 8 of 10 of where we really need to be.”
Despite his team being a model of consistency over the years, finishing outside the top-12 in points just once during his full-time Cup Series career, Hamlin noted that he remains as motivated as ever to keep winning races and competing for championships in the years to come.
If Toyota’s dominance from 2017 can be sustained into 2018, look for Hamlin to be one of the drivers in contention for the title all the way to the end.
“I’m always motivated to be better, and I’m just going to keep grinding as long as I can to try to win a championship, and putting in the hard work, I’ve definitely worked harder last year on things I can do to be better personally on the racetrack, and hopefully that pays off this year and for years to come. But it’s not been a drag by any means,” Hamlin added.
“My career has been great every year. I feel like I’m better, and even those stats may not show it, I feel like I’m a better race car driver. But you just ‑‑ sometimes circumstances work out for you. Dale Earnhardt was the greatest Daytona driver for how many years before he won it? 20 years, right? He dominated every time. Every year he was in contention. He just never won. Eventually he kept putting himself up front and in contention, and he won. That’s the way I’m going to keep approaching my career is keep grinding on the door.”