April 19, 2024

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Denny Hamlin's win at Bristol paves the way for a Cup title

Denny Hamlin's win at Bristol paves the way for a Cup title

Denny Hamlin told some family and friends ahead of the 2024 NASCAR season that he thinks it will be a big year for his No. 11 team. The veteran racer exudes confidence. On Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, the new Hamlin — a 20-year veteran of the sport — demonstrated his raw race car handling ability.

Hamlin, in a strategy-packed 500-lap race on the famous half-mile short track, used old tricks to earn his 52nd Cup Series victory. With so much wear showing on the Goodyear tires, the drivers and teams had to pace themselves and see the race as one of the most exciting challenges they have faced in years.

“This is the first time a driver has played a big role in a very long time,” Hamlin said in his post-race press conference. “It's a different philosophy than we're used to, which is everyone's running to the bottom all the time, by the shortest path. Technology was a big deal today.

Hamlin believes winning a race in which the driver had a major role in the outcome is among the most important victories of his career.

“I know I had a big role in the outcome,” Hamlin said. “If the car wasn't good, I wouldn't have won. But I feel like I played a big role in the result. It's really a source of pride for me. Definitely one of the proudest things I've ever been in my career, without a doubt.”

Hamlin is the winningest driver in series history and has never won a Cup Series title. He often jokes about not having a championship trophy in his house. At 43 years old, there won't be many chances to win it all, although he signed a multi-year extension with Joe Gibbs Racing last fall. However, Sunday's game showed that he is as strong as ever.

The veteran Joe Gibbs Racing racer has won three Daytona 500 races (all since 2016) and had nine top-five finishes in the championship standings during his previous 18 full-time seasons at the Cup level. In the last two seasons, even when Hamlin was the favorite to win the title, Hamlin narrowly missed winning a fourth championship.

This year, Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing are off to a hot start. Christopher Bell and Hamlin won the last two races as part of NASCAR's new short track package. At Phoenix, the Toyota drivers led all but 14 laps. JGR also has a Martin Truex Jr. tie. Leading the regular season championship, while sophomore Ty Gibbs is third in points through five races.

If this is the year anyone excels, it's Hamlin. The new package forces drivers to get creative with their driving style and maintain their tires. For Hamlin, this style of racing is right in his wheelhouse.

The Cup Series will visit a road course for the first time this season on Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, when the green flag flies shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET.

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