By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 16
Career Wins: 37
For the third time in his career, Denny Hamlin made it to the championship finale with a shot at the NASCAR Cup Series title, but like each time before, ultimately fell short at the end and had to watch as another driver hoisted the championship trophy.
However, this time around was different. Hamlin came into the final race of the 2019 campaign as confident as ever and seems to be poised to carry that momentum right into 2020.
Over the course of the 36 race season, Hamlin won six times (a far cry from his winless 2018 season), including his second Daytona 500 victory and second win in the Bristol Night Race. On top of the wins, Hamlin had 19 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 finishes (both career highs), as well as three poles, 922 laps led, and an average finish of 9.5 (also a career high).
“From my standpoint, winning the Daytona 500, winning the Bristol Night Race, and winning the win or go home race in Phoenix, that made for a successful year for us,” Hamlin said. “We won some big races, won a lot of races and I don’t see that stopping anytime in the near future.
“After 2019, this is the standard. You’ve got to run like this all the time. I think that after having a bounce back year like we had (last) year, it definitely makes you look back at the years that weren’t as successful thinking that you need to raise your bar even higher.”
With Chris Gabehart back on top of the pit box for Hamlin in 2020 and the success that he and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole showed last season putting three of their four drivers in championship contention, it doesn’t seem like they will be taking their foot off the gas anytime soon.
While there is still room for improvement, it should be much of the same for Hamlin in 2020, with the No. 11 team competing for wins week in and week out and gunning for another shot at finally being able to bring home the championship trophy at season’s end.
“We definitely can improve,” Hamlin said. “I thought the second half of the season, we became an elite team that battled for race wins every single week. That was a great accomplishment. Winning when we had to in Phoenix, just a lot of things were really going well.
“Knowing that things are going to kind of be the same (in 2020) with the rules and things like that since everything development is on hold for the new car, I’m pretty confident that between myself and my crew chief, we’re going to be pretty strong.”