Why 2024 Is Denny Hamlin’s Year, Again

Denny Hamlin, NASCAR

Getty Images Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Mavis Tire Toyota

Denny Hamlin didn’t just beat your favorite driver, he’s on pace to beat everyone’s favorite driver. NASCAR’s current winningest villain, Hamlin is now an odds-on favorite to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship.

NASCAR oddsmakers give Hamlin, along with William Byron and Kyle Larson, 5-1 odds (+500) to win the championship. And while the major sports betting platforms currently have all three at about equal odds, one sportsbook, Caesar’s, outright favors Hamlin. There’s good reason for this. Hamlin’s been in contention nearly every single race this season, and as the Sportsbook Review notes,  it’s “been an epic run for the NASCAR veteran, whose car and pit crew are both among the best in the field through the first two months of the season.”

Denny Hamlin the Odds-On Favorite to Win

Denny Hamlin currently has 54 wins, placing him 13th on the all-time NASCAR wins list. Among active drivers, he trails only Kyle Busch, who has 63 wins. Jimmie Johnson has 83 victories. Unlike Busch or Johnson, Hamlin has never won a NASCAR Cup championship. Is 2024 finally his year?

Type ‘NASCAR Cup Series championship Bill France Cup’ into Google. Try it. One of the first things you’re likely to see is: “has Hamlin won a championship?” The answer is no. No driver in NASCAR history has won as many races as Hamlin and not won a championship. NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson won 50 races, but never a championship. That’s the closest parallel to Denny Hamlin. Johnson did win the NASCAR championship, twice, as a team owner. Hamlin is part-owner of 23XI Racing. Might history repeat itself? Hamlin never wins as a driver, but does win as an owner, much like Johnson?

That’s certainly possible, but so is winning the championship as a driver. And 2024 is looking like a great opportunity for Hamlin to finally win that championship. Of course, at 43 years old, it might be 2024 or bust.

The Numbers on Hamlin’s Side

Denny Hamlin is currently in 4th place, 49 points behind the leader, Kyle Larson. But Hamlin already has 3 wins, and his car, his driving style, and his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, are all looking as strong as ever. True, Larson has more top 10 finishes in the Next Gen era, with 42 compared to Hamlin’s 39. And Hamlin and Larson are tied for wins in the Next Gen era, with eight each. But as NASCAR notes, “Hamlin and Larson have finished 1-2 in six Cup Series races. Hamlin has been on the winning side each time.” That’s right, every time. Plus, Hamlin’s posted 3 wins already this season, compared to Larson’s one. In addition, Larson’s ongoing flirtation with the Indy 500, while laudable, could prove a distraction.

The next race, this Sunday, May 5, 2024, takes place at the Kansas Speedway, where Hamlin has been great–winning there last year and coming in second in the fall race. Add to this, Hamlin seems more at ease than ever before. He’s quit trying to rile the competition–and the fans–by retiring his polarizing post-win declaration, “I just beat your favorite driver.” He had no problem confessing he “jumped the start” that earned him a win at last month’s Toyota Owners 400. And he’s put himself out in front of the public, voicing concerns about pylons and track maintenance, taking the side of the fans. All this while being the one driver most vocal about NASCAR charter agreement issues. He’s clearly confident in his abilities, understands his opportunities as both driver and team owner, and knows he has nothing to prove.

Hamlin’s done all this while not losing a step. After the first 11 races this year, Hamlin has 3 wins and 4 top 10 finishes. His best season in his long career till now was in 2010. Hamlin had 3 wins and 4 top 10 finishes in the first 11 races that year. And this year there’s no Jimmie Johnson ahead of him. Hamlin has said “worse drivers” than him have won championships. Which is true. But 2024 is shaping up to be his best chance to do what those worse drivers have done and he hasn’t, win a NASCAR championship.

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