Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Following another season without a NASCAR Cup Series championship, Denny Hamlin is poised to break an all-time record that isn’t necessarily a good one.
This Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway was the first race in four years in which Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was not still eligible to win the championship.
Despite having been the only driver to reach the Championship 4 in 2019, 2020, and 2021, however, Hamlin is still seeking his first championship.
Hamlin’s bid to win the 2022 championship ended at Martinsville Speedway on the final lap of the round of 8’s final race when Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain made a bizarre move, riding the outside wall to pass five cars coming to the checkered flag.
Technically, Hamlin would have been eliminated had Chastain not made the move, since RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski was later disqualified.
Factoring in the associated changes in race results and stage results, Chastain would have been tied on points with Hamlin before the move, and Chastain held the tiebreaker due to a better top finish in the round of 8.
The driver of the #11 Toyota has won 48 races throughout his career, including multiple races in each of the last four years. Only one driver has ever won more races throughout his career without winning a championship, and that is the late Junior Johnson, who won 50 races.
Among drivers who ever competed full-time in the Cup Series, Hamlin already owns that record. He broke it in 2020, when he tied and surpassed Mark Martin with a seven-win season, bringing his win total from 37 to 44. Martin won 40 races throughout his career from 1981 to 2013.
Johnson competed in the Cup Series for 14 seasons from 1953 to 1966, but he never competed full-time. In fact, he only completed more than half the schedule in seven of his 14 seasons, so he never finished higher than sixth place in the championship standings.
Hamlin, who has stated that championships are “viewed differently” in this day and age, owns a best finish of second place in the championship standings. He finished as the runner-up behind Jimmie Johnson in 2010, when Johnson won his fifth consecutive title. Hamlin’s four Championship 4 appearances from 2014 to 2021 all resulted in finishes of either third or fourth.
Of course, even if Denny Hamlin does break Junior Johnson’s record, he could always cross his name off of this particular all-time list by winning a championship. Will it ever happen?