Denny Hamlin Bio Continued
Hamlin set the Cup Series alight in 2010, winning a series-high eight races and putting the FedEx Racing team among the elite in the garage. Winning frequently, and on a wide variety of tracks, Hamlin held the points lead heading into the Chase before ultimately finishing second by the slimmest of margins. Season highlights included a late-race charge at Martinsville that elevated the #11 team to a serious contender after a slow start to the season, two signature wins on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway helped stamp the team’s authority on the series, and emotional wins at both Pocono (Pa.) and Richmond. The season was not without its fair share of drama off the track as well – as Hamlin fought through a serious knee injury and subsequent surgery during the 36-race schedule.
The 2009 Sprint Cup Series season proved to be a coming of age campaign for Hamlin and the #11 team. A leadership role within Joe Gibbs Racing and a desire to turn continued success into a championship saw Hamlin make a late-season charge to lock up a spot in NASCAR’s post-season, but Chase wins at Martinsville (Va.) and Homestead (Fla.) were ultimately negated by on-track problems in Fontana (Calif.), Charlotte and Talladega (Ala.). Hamlin finished the season fifth in the point standings, setting then-career best marks for wins, top-five finishes and total laps led. His impressive victories on various circuits proved Hamlin and his team were well positioned to be the primary challengers to reigning champion Jimmie Johnson moving forward.
The 2008 Sprint Cup season was, by any definition, a season of change. As Joe Gibbs Racing made the move to a new manufacturer in Toyota, the Cup Series made the full-time move to the Car of Tomorrow, and Hamlin welcomed Kyle Busch as a teammate, the #11 FedEx team was hoping that change would also come in the form of a series championship effort. Despite making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in both 2006 and 2007, the onus was on the team to translate regular season success into a charge down the stretch.
The spring race at Richmond International Raceway highlighted both the satisfaction of fully dominating an event and the speed with which that dominance can be undone. Hamlin started the 400-lap event from the pole and led an impressive 381 laps before a cut tire forced him to pit road with only 19 laps to go. A win on a cold, rainy day in Martinsville earned Hamlin his sole Cup triumph of the season and a long-coveted Grandfather clock trophy. As Hamlin marched to his third-consecutive Chase, the team was hoping to avoid the letdown that marked the 2007 edition, but alas, it was not to be.
After a mechanical failure in Dover and a tremendous hit following a cut tire at Talladega, Hamlin was all but eliminated from championship contention and finished the year in eighth place.
The 2007 season built on a wildly successful 2006 rookie campaign and helped solidify Hamlin and the #11 team’s status as a perennial championship contender. Hamlin quickly allayed fears that he would fall victim to the dreaded “sophomore slump” by kicking off the season with a string of solid results that catapulted him into the top-five in points.
Hamlin’s lone 2007 win came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July when a late-race two-tire change gave him the track position he needed and the opportunity to hold off Jeff Gordon en route to victory lane. On several occasions in 2007, dominating performances by Hamlin and the team were nullified by pit road mishaps, mechanical problems or penalties, yet the #11 team still maintained championship aspirations and a place near the top of the standings. Hamlin posted 12 top-five finishes and 18 top-10 results throughout the year, but ultimately settled for 12th place in the final standings.
In 2006, Hamlin burst onto the scene with a win in the prestigious Budweiser Shootout exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway, and carried that early momentum into one of the most successful rookie campaigns in NASCAR history.
On his way to becoming the first – and still only – rookie to earn a spot in the Chase for the championship, Hamlin posted his first career Cup Series victory in dominating style at Pocono Raceway. He captured three pole awards, finished third in the final point standings and earned 2006 “Rookie of the Year” honors.
Hamlin’s ascension to the highest levels of NASCAR came through a combination of skill, perseverance, a little bit of luck and a knack for delivering strong performances when given the opportunity. Each of Hamlin’s “debuts” has come with caveats of additional opportunities (in the form of more races or permanent employment) should he meet or beat expectations, and he has absolutely shone in those instances. In his first NASCAR Truck Series race, Hamlin drove the Gibbs Performance Chevrolet to a 10th-place finish at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Aug. 6, 2004. Three months later, making his debut in the Busch (now Nationwide) Series at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, he recorded an eight-place finish for JGR.
With Hamlin on his way to a fifth-place finish in the standings during his rookie Busch Series campaign, he was offered the unexpected opportunity to run the #11 FedEx Chevrolet at the end of the 2005 Cup Series season. Hamlin wasted no time in displaying his talent, posting three top-10 finishes in seven starts and winning the pole in Phoenix. His performances over the seven races he ran at the end of 2005 made him an easy choice to fill the seat of the #11 FedEx car for 2006.
In addition to his success at the Cup level, Hamlin has put together an impressive resume in the Nationwide Series. He made his debut in 2004 and spent nearly three full seasons behind the wheel of the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet, before making the transition to Toyotas for JGR, Braun Racing and CJM beginning in 2008. In 128 total starts, Hamlin has racked up 11 wins and 15 poles.
Hamlin now finds himself at the highest level of NASCAR, but he has been winning races since the age of seven when he began his career racing karts in the Junior Sportsman League. From the kart tracks of Virginia to the Sprint Cup Series, Hamlin has proved he can succeed at any level.
In 2000, he was named “Rookie of the Year” at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Va., posting 11 top-five finishes that year. Just three years later, Hamlin celebrated his finest season in Late Models, recording 25 wins, 30 poles and 33 top-five finishes.
In 1997, at age 16, Hamlin hit the track for his first season driving a Mini Stock car. The year was a resounding success as Hamlin became the youngest driver to win the NASCAR Mini Stock track championship at Langley (Va.) Speedway, and was named the 1997 NASCAR Mini Stock “Rookie of the Year.” He still holds the NASCAR Mini Stock record at Langley with a lap time of 18.025 seconds.
Hamlin was dominating in the Junior Restricted League at age 12, earning the titles Amelia Motor Raceway track champion (junior restricted), Virginia Dirt Karting Association State Champion (Junior Champ) and World Karting Association Virginia Dirt Series State Champion (Junior Champ). He finished his Kart career at age 15 with 127 feature wins and five championships in three classes.
Away from the track, Hamlin stays active – whether playing golf, basketball or working out – and spending time with friends. He remains a committed fan of Virginia Tech and the Washington Redskins, and can be found courtside for Charlotte Bobcats home games.