With the Daytona 500 kicking off the Sprint Cup Series many eyes will be tuned in to the kings of the pavement come February 22.
While there will be the more well-known household names such as Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, if you’re from Virginia or the Carolinas, you may be honed in on another driver who has continued to gain more traction in the NASCAR world.
That driver is Denny Hamlin, a 34-year-old who started his career racing go-karts at the age of 7 and eventually worked his way up to signing with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2004.
Here’s what you need to know about the driver behind the wheel of the No. 11 car:
1. Denny Hamlin Is the 8th-Highest Paid NASCAR Driver
In 2013, Hamlin signed a new deal with Joe Gibbs Racing – one in which coincided with his renewed sponsorship by primary sponsor, FedEx. Forbes reported that Hamlin’s agreement carried one of the biggest salaries in the sport.
The breakdown was as follows: $13.7 million in earnings, $12.2 million in salary and winnings and $1.5 million in licensing and endorsements.
Hamlin landed in the No. 8 slot behind No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, according to Forbes.
And despite his earnings taking a hit in 2013 when he missed four races following a compression fracture he suffered in an accident that March, Celebrity Net Worth reported an increase in the race car driver’s overall net worth to $30 million.
Thus far in his career, Hamlin has had 24 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Victories, 19 career Sprint Cup Series poles, 11 career Nationwide Series victories and 16 career Nationwide Series poles.
2. Hamlin Races For Joe Gibbs Racing
In 2004, after working his way up to Late Models, Hamlin signed a development contract with Joe Gibbs Racing – one of the main organizations in NASCAR with four Sprint Cup Series teams, three XFINITY Series teams and a driver development program.
The following year, after competing in five Craftsman Truck Series, Hamlin drove an entire season in the Busch Series in addition to competing in a few Nextel Cup races.
In 2006, Hamlin ran his first full season in the Nextel Cup Series and ended it as the winner of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year and third overall in the standings. Hamlin also became the first rookie to not only win the Budweiser Shootout, but also to qualify for a Chase for the Sprint Cup qualifier.
The No. 11 driver also holds the second longest streak in NASCAR history for being a seven-time Chase for the Sprint Cup qualifier, 2006-2012.
And in addition to Hamlin, who drives FedEx and Sports Clips sponsored cars, Joe Gibbs Racing also has No. 18 Kyle Busch, No. 19 Carl Edwards and No. 20 Matt Kenseth to fill out their Sprint Cup Series teams.
3. Denny Hamlin Dated High School Sweetheart for Eight Years
In 1999, while attending Manchester High School in Chesterfield, Virginia, Hamlin started dating fellow senior Kristin Buntain.
After a couple years of dating, Buntain quit her job in 2005 to join Hamlin on the road. She explained her decision to Player Wives & Girlfriends:
I never imagined moving away from home. Never. But I did. I left my job I loved. I left my family. But the alternative would be to stay here and not be with him every day. After that long a period of time being together, I knew I was going to go. I haven’t regretted it.
Although there were rumors about the high school sweethearts being engaged, it was unconfirmed. There were also unconfirmed rumors that Hamlin cheated with current girlfriend Jordan Fish while he and Buntain were still together.
Whether true or not, after eight years the two broke up in July 2007.
4. Hamlin Has a Daughter With Current Girlfriend Jordan Fish
In January 2007, Hamlin met Jordan Fish – now 34 – at a Charlotte Bobcats game where Fish was a member of the Lady Cats dance team. Although the two spoke on the phone shortly following, they went their separate ways – Hamlin was still dating Buntain.
But following the Buntain-Hamlin break up, Fish reached out to the NASCAR driver to see if he would sponsor her for the Miss South Carolina USA pageant. Fish then took Hamlin to dinner as a “thank-you” and the two have been dating ever since, according to USA Today.
After several years of dating, the two welcomed their daughter Taylor James Hamlin on January 20, 2013.
5. Hamlin Was Caught On Camera Singing Taylor Swift’s Hit “Shake It Off”
Last August, Hamlin decided to launch his YouTube channel with a video of him lip syncing Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off.”
Hamlin told NASCAR.com that he picked this song to serenade his longtime girlfriend, Fish, with because it was stuck in his head.
I was watching the VMAs a week ago and the song stuck in my head, and then it came on the radio. I’m kind of this savant when it comes to remembering words to movies and songs. I can’t remember the question you asked me two questions ago, but I hear a song a couple of times, I typically can nail it. That song hasn’t even been out that long, so trust me, I haven’t heard it that many times where I know every single word.
While Hamlin didn’t shy away from sharing the 56-second video on Twitter, he did share his one regret about his tweet.
I just kind of wish I’d tagged Taylor in my thing so maybe I could’ve gotten a retweet from someone who has 43 million Twitter followers. That’s my only regret.
Although he didn’t get the T-Swift retweet, Hamlin did get the approval of Swift’s boss, Scott Borchetta, who is also the President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group.