For all intents and purposes, Denny Hamlin had a quiet Sunday (May 9) at Darlington Raceway.
But it wasn’t a bad day, at least from an outsider’s perspective.
After starting fourth, Hamlin and the No. 11 team placed second in stage one and fourth in stage two before finishing fifth.
Hamlin left South Carolina with his ninth top-five finish of the season, as well as his ninth top 10.
Yet none of those are race wins.
The lack of victories was noted by NASCAR’s Twitter account afterwards. Hamlin felt the need to remind everyone how his season is going.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 10, 2021
In short: scoreboard, baby.
Hamlin is proving that consistency can go a long ways, even in the era of the “Win and You’re In” playoff format. His three finishes worse than fifth this year are 11th (Homestead), 12th (Kansas) and 32nd (Talladega).
“We’ll dive through it. Myself and my crew chief are too tough of competitors to not dig into that,” Hamlin said of being beaten by JGR equipment so handily. “Honestly, it’s probably the worst butt whooping we’ve had all year and still top five. We expect to run a little better than what we did today.”
Truex earned his third win of the year. Busch finally broke through at Kansas thanks to late restarts, and Christopher Bell surprised almost everyone with his Daytona road-course victory. This is after Truex and Busch had just one win each in 2020 and Bell was winless at Leavine Family Racing.
At this point last year, Hamlin had just earned his second of seven wins. Still, he wasn’t leading the points and wouldn’t again until after his playoff win at Talladega.
While Hamlin has seen wins slip from his grasp at Martinsville (passed late by Truex), Kansas (contact with wall while leading) and Richmond (passed by Alex Bowman on late restart), he’s almost always in the mix.
But he’s been in the mix at tracks where he has a history of winning.
This weekend marks the end of a six-race stretch of visiting tracks – Martinsville, Richmond, Talladega, Kansas, Darlington and Dover — where Hamlin has a combined total of 17 victories.
But Dover isn’t on the high end of successful tracks for him. Hamlin earned his first career Dover win in 30 starts last year. That was only his sixth top five on the 1-mile oval.
The Cup Series heads to one of its new toys, Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. In his Cup career, Hamlin has only one road-course win: at Watkins Glen in 2016. That’s followed by the Coca-Cola 600. In 29 career starts on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval, Hamlin is winless, though he did place second there in the mid-week race in May. After Charlotte comes Sonoma (0 – 14, four top fives) and another inaugural race at Nashville Speedway.
The next reliable track for Hamlin is Pocono Raceway, the site of a doubleheader (June 26-27). Hamlin has earned six wins in 30 starts there, including one of the doubleheader events last season.
At some point, consistency won’t be Hamlin’s best friend. He’ll have to start piling up playoff points.
That hasn’t been easy for Hamlin and it’s not about to get easier.
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