The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin at Darlington on Sunday, Sept. 5, and one driver is preparing by getting some extra time on the track. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will suit up for his lone Xfinity Series start of the season and will compete at The Lady in Black on Saturday, Sept. 4 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports).
NASCAR released the entry list for the Xfinity Series race at Darlington on Monday, Aug. 30, revealing that Hamlin will be behind the wheel of the No. 54 JGR Toyota Supra. He will once again have sponsorship from SportClips Haircuts, the same company that has partnered with him multiple times in the past.
Hamlin has considerable success at Darlington Raceway. He has suited up for 13 Xfinity Series races at the 1.36-mile oval and has reached Victory Lane a total of five times, including his most recent win in 2017. Additionally, Hamlin has posted top-five finishes at Darlington a total of 10 times in the Xfinity Series.
Hamlin Rarely Suits Up for the Xfinity Series
While teammate Kyle Busch has made 362 starts in the Xfinity Series over 19 years, Hamlin has taken a very different approach. He has only suited up a total of 162 times in 17 years and hasn’t started more than four races in a season since 2015.
Hamlin started two races during the 2016 season, four in 2017, and only one each year from 2018-2020. He has still been competitive while accounting for wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and Darlington Raceway.
One of Hamlin’s trips to Darlington did not play out as he expected. He initially won the 2019 SportClips 200 but did not have much time to celebrate. According to “Motorsport.com,” NASCAR officials disqualified Hamlin’s No. 18 Toyota after it failed post-race inspection and relegated him to a 38th-place finish.
Other Cup Drivers Will Join Hamlin in Xfinity
When the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry climbs into the Xfinity Series car, he will line up against some familiar faces. Two other Cup Series drivers in Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon will both pull double-duty at Darlington.
Reddick will make his third start of the Xfinity Series season for Our Motorsports while driving the No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro. He previously joined the team for races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway, finishing 12th and 16th, respectively.
Dillon will make his fifth and final start of the Xfinity Series season, his first while driving for Jordan Anderson Racing. He will climb into the No. 31 Chevrolet Camaro and try to win his first Xfinity race at Darlington after three previous attempts and one top-five finish.
The two Richard Childress Racing teammates sit in very different positions following the Cup Series regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. They entered the Coke Zero Sugar 400 fighting for the final playoff spot and both dealt with setbacks during the race. Dillon had to change his battery and recover from a pit road penalty while Reddick’s team had to repair his No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro after one of the many wrecks.
While both drivers dealt with issues, they lined up for the final restart in position to win and lock up a spot in the playoffs. However, only one made it to the finish line. One final wreck featuring several drivers destroyed Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet and left him stranded at the bottom of a turn. Reddick, on the other hand, limped his stock car to the finish line and secured a top-10 finish.
“I definitely put myself in as many positions tonight as I could to lead laps and win the race,” Dillon told “Jayski” after the Aug. 28 race. “I hate it that we didn’t get a victory throughout the year because this was a one-off year where a ton of people got to victory lane. We beat a lot of those guys on points that won races, but it didn’t matter because wins matter now. We were close a couple of times, just didn’t pan out for us.”
While he did not win and reach the playoffs, Dillon will still strive to reach Victory Lane at least once to finish out the 2021 campaign. He has three wins at the Cup level in eight full-time seasons, and he will use the extra laps at Darlington to potentially prepare for a fourth.