The NASCAR Roster Portal provided the update after the Daytona weekend. It listed Hamlin as the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota GR Supra and Jason Ratcliff as his crew chief. Hamlin will replace Sammy Smith, who started the last three races and secured a top-five finish at Watkins Glen International.
This start continues a recent trend for Hamlin and JGR. The Virginia native has made one Xfinity Series start each year from 2018 to 2021. All have been at Darlington Raceway. Though Hamlin has also suited up at the track 14 times since 2004.
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Hamlin Has Extensive Success at Darlington Raceway
Suiting up for an Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway provides Hamlin with multiple opportunities. First, he can get some more laps at the track while preparing for the opening race of the Cup Series playoffs. Second, he can add more wins to his total.
Hamlin has made 14 starts at Darlington in the Xfinity Series. He has posted top-five finishes in 10 of these races while winning five times. Each time that Hamlin reached Victory Lane, he did so after starting from the pole.
Hamlin’s most recent Xfinity Series start at Darlington Raceway marked only the second time that he did not crack the top 10. Though the first (2019) was due to disqualification. He finished 12th overall in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra after starting 14th overall.
Hamlin Aims for Another Successful Playoff Opener
While Hamlin did not win his sixth Xfinity Series race at Darlington in 2021, he turned in a much bigger performance during the Cup Series race. He won the playoff opener after going winless in the regular season.
Hamlin was not the story early in the Cup Series race. Kyle Larson turned in a dominant performance early at Darlington, finishing second in Stage 1 and winning Stage 2. He had a strong car, but Hamlin took the lead using pit strategy during the final segment.
The veteran driver remained in the lead even after Chase Elliott was pinched into the outside wall. This damaged the No. 9 Chevrolet and brought out the caution with fewer than 40 laps remaining.
Hamlin took a gamble and stayed out, which paid off as he restarted from the front row and then held off both Larson and Ross Chastain to win for the first time in 2021. More importantly, he punched his ticket to the Round of 12.
Hamlin sits in a different situation entering the 2022 playoffs. He is the sixth seed after securing two race wins — Richmond and Charlotte — and three stage wins. He is not seeking his first win of the year, but he will strive to add another in order to reach the Round of 12 for the eighth time in his Cup Series career.