All the sweat, the tears, the heart-warming pains and the back breaking gains have all culminated to this one last shot for the Championship 4 contenders to vie for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Phoenix Raceway.
Here’s an in-depth look at the four contenders, continuing with Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)…
Hamlin By The Numbers:
2 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series career wins at Phoenix Raceway (2012, 2019).
2 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins during the 2021 season.
4 – Number of appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Championship 4 (2014, ’19 ’20, ‘21)
10 – Number of stage wins during the 2021 season.
6.4 – Average starting position for the first 35 races of the 2021 season.
7.2 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2021 Playoffs.
8.6 – Average finishing position for the first 35 races of the 2021 season.
9.8 – Average starting position at Phoenix Raceway.
10.8 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.
15 – Number of career top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
18 – Number of top-five finishes during the 2021 season.
19 – Number of career top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
24 – Number of top-10 finishes during the 2021 season.
30 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2021.
99.2 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway, fourth-best among active drivers.
109.2 – Season-to-date driver rating, second-best among active drivers in 2021.
854 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.
1,502 – Total number of laps led in the 2021 season (career-high in a single season).
8,884 – Total number of laps completed in the 2021 season (99.9%).
Denny Hamlin seeks first career Cup title
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin burst on the NASCAR Cup Series scene fulltime in 2006, and ever since he has been a force in the series year-in and year-out. The 40-year-old has competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for 16 full-time seasons, qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in a series record 15 of them (tied with Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch for series-most at 15 each). This season will mark the fourth time the Virginia has made the Championship 4 Round (2014, 2019, 2020, 2021) tied with Joey Logano for second-most appearances in the series and Hamlin is hoping this is the year he gets his first title. If Hamlin were to accomplish the feat this weekend, he would become the first NASCAR Cup Series driver from Virginia to win a championship.
In 2014, he qualified for the final round in the Playoffs, but finished seventh in the season finale at Homestead-Miami and ultimately third in the championship standings. Last season he advanced to the Championship 4 for the second time in his career, but a tough call on pit road in the season finale was costly for Hamlin and he finished the race in 10th and ultimately fourth in the final championship standings.
Hamlin’s best finish in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings came in 2010 when he finished runner-up in the points behind Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin’s 2021 championship campaign started with a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500, and then a third-place finish at the Daytona Road Course in the opening two weeks of the schedule and as a result, he took the points lead and then held it for 22 straight races. It has been Hamlin’s relentless consistency that has made the different this season. In 35 starts, he has posted two wins, 18 top fives and 24 top 10s. His average finish this season is a stout 8.6.
The path to Phoenix almost got rocky for Hamlin
The Joe Gibbs Racing standout, Denny Hamlin, had to bank on his 32 Playoff points to help him advance to the Championship 4 Round this season after a late race incident with Alex Bowman almost derailed his Playoff hopes last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. But none of that matters now, as he has another chance at a Cup title this weekend.
Hamlin shot out of the gate this Playoffs winning the open race at Darlington Raceway, then finished runner-up at Richmond and ninth at Bristol to advance to the Round of 12. He then did it again, winning the opening race to the Round of 8 at Las Vegas and the followed it up with a seventh at Talladega and a fifth-place finish at the Charlotte Roval. Then Hamlin rallied off an 11th at Texas and another fifth-place finish at Kansas, but nearly had his postseason squandered at Martinsville after being wrecked from the lead by Alex Bowman. Bowman would go on to win and Hamlin would finish 24th nearly missing the Championship 4, but thanks to his Playoff points he earned enough to move on.
Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott are the only two drivers from last season’s Championship 4 (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) to make it back to the final round in 2021. Hamlin has finished fourth in the final Cup standings the last two seasons. Hamlin ranks second among drivers with the most NASCAR Cup Series wins (46) without a championship behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson (50).
Hamlin’s previous performance in cactus country
For just the second time in series history Phoenix Raceway will host the season finale race and set the stage for the Championship 4 to compete for the NASCAR Cup Series title. And the change in venue is a welcome one for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.
The one-mile Phoenix Raceway is one of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s best tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series, having made 32 series starts at the 1-mile track collecting two wins (2012, 2019), 15 top fives, 19 top 10s and two poles. His average finish at Phoenix is 10.781, second-best in the series and best among the Championship 4.
Hamlin also ranks in the top five in several key pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 10.989, fourth-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 99.2, fourth-best, 530 Fastest Laps Run, third-best and 7,383 Laps in the Top 15 (73.9%), third-most.
Earlier this season, Hamlin started third and led 33 laps en route to a third-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.
Crew Chief Corner: Chris Gabehart
The powerful duo of driver Denny Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart are the only Championship 4 team entered this weekend that has made the Playoffs’ final round the last three consecutive seasons (2019-2021), proving they are a force to be reckoned with.
Since joining forces with Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team, Gabehart has led the crew to 15 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories (2019, 2020), three Playoff appearances and three Championship 4 appearances (2019, 2020, 2021).
The Hamlin-Gabehart pair have combined for the following achievements in 104 NASCAR Cup Series races together since 2017:
- 15 wins
- 54 top fives
- 68 top 10s
- 3,376 laps led
- 3 poles
- Three consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearances (2019, 2020, 2021)
- Three consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2019, 2020, 2021)
Under Gabehart’s leadership this season, Hamlin has earned 18 top fives, 24 top 10s and has hoisted two trophies (Darlington, Las Vegas) in Victory Lane.
If Hamlin and Gabehart win the championship this season, Gabehart will become the 42nd different crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series to win a title.
Continuing Joe Gibbs Racing’s excellence
Winning and excellence are ingrained in the foundation of the Joe Gibbs Racing and since joining the NASCAR Cup Series in 1992 the organization has collected five series championships among three drivers – Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).
Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has 10 NASCAR national series owner championships (five in Cup and five in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016).
Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last 21 NASCAR Cup Series championships (2000-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 25%. The organization also holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Present) record for the most wins in a single season with 19 victories in 2019.
Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing has earned nine NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021. The 2021 season is the organization’s 29th straight season with at least one victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.
This season Joe Gibbs Racing led a combined 2,792 laps. The team ranks second in laps led in a single season in the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Presnt) with 4,047 laps out front in 2019. Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s recent dominance doesn’t end there, they also set a NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era record for the most finishes (32) inside the top two in 2019; a feat Hendrick Motorsports tied this season. This season the JGR foursome of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. scored 79 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (92 in 2019, 84 in 2016), posted 51 top-five finishes; the team’s third-most (61 in 2019 and 55 in 2020) and also won 22 stages.
Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs elimination-style format in 2014, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed at least one driver in the Championship 4 Round each season (Denny Hamlin: 2014, ’19, ’20, ’21; Kyle Busch: 2015-2019; Martin Truex Jr.: 2019, ’21; Carl Edwards: 2016). Impressively, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed more than one driver in the Championship 4 Round in three of the seven Playoffs with the elimination-format (2016, 2019 and 2021) and set the series record for the most drivers to earn a spot in the Championship 4 Round by an organization in a single season when Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin all made the Championship 4 in 2019.
Joe Gibbs Racing has won at least one Playoff race in 13 of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 33 postseason wins, second-most all-time. Joe Gibbs Racing is also tied with Hendrick Motorsports for the most Playoff wins in a single season with six victories each (JGR, 2019 and HMS 2007).
Denny Hamlin made his fulltime NASCAR Cup Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2006 and he immediately started things on the right foot, winning the Daytona Speedweeks season-opening exhibition event, then known as the Budweiser Shootout, in his first appearance. Since then, Hamlin has earned 46 Cup points-race victories – picking up his third Daytona 500 win last season. Now the 40-year-old is looking to bring the Joe Gibbs Racing organization its sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship and his first; joining Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015 and 2019).