Denny Hamlin is one of NASCAR‘s most successful drivers. He has 44 career wins, a list that includes three trips to Victory Lane after the Daytona 500. His talent and dedication played a major role in getting to the peak of the sport, but Hamlin would not have achieved this goal without his mother.
Friday morning, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and his mother, Mary Lou Hamlin, sat down together for a special media session. They reflected on the NASCAR driver’s career, going back to the go-kart days and how he has become one of the sport’s biggest names. They also each provided insight into the critical role that Mary Lou played.
“You definitely have to make sure that you don’t take it for granted,” Hamlin told media members on Friday. “Because a lot of parents don’t get to see their kids grow up and do what they always wanted to do. She’s been a supporter of mine since back in the go-kart days, chasing me around the country, running national events. She’s been in the grind with me for the last 30 years or so.”
Hamlin made his Cup Series debut in 2005
The Virginia native did not spend much time in the Xfinity Series or Truck Series before making the leap to a full-time Cup ride. He started six combined races in 2004 before running a full-time Xfinity Series — then the Busch Series — schedule in 2005 and 2006. Hamlin also made his Cup debut in 2005, starting five races and finishing top-10 three times.
Hamlin pursued a full-time Cup schedule in 2006, starting all 36 races for Joe Gibbs Racing and reaching Victory Lane twice. He took the checkered flag at Pocono in June, his first career victory, and then won at the Tricky Triangle once again weeks later. Hamlin added two Xfinity wins, one in Mexico City and another at Darlington.
Once Hamlin reached Victory Lane for the first time in NASCAR’s top series, he set up a 12-year run in which he won at least one race each season. He posted a career-high eight victories in 2010, finishing the year second in the points standings behind Jimmie Johnson.
“I’m so proud of him,” Mary Lou added. “Never did I think that he would actually get to the point where he is now, even being a team owner now. It amazes me how far that he has gotten. I knew that he had the talent, and all that his dad and I wished for is that he would at least get to the point where he could compete with the best of the best.”
Mary Lou is Hamlin’s biggest fan, but some races are ‘nerve-racking’
Throughout Hamlin’s career, his parents have been mainstays at the race tracks. They have watched him compete on some iconic tracks and then have celebrated with him following major wins. Some of these races have put Mary Lou on edge due to the speeds and the danger, but she has adjusted to NASCAR more as the years have gone by.
“I think I’m more calm, other than Daytona and Talladega,” Mary Lou said. “Makes me pretty nervous. Even when he was in go-karts, I used to tape every one of his races so that he could go back after the race and watch it, learn from it I think that took a lot of the nervousness away at that time from when he was younger.”
Hamlin has crashed a multitude of times during his 17-year career, including wrecks at Martinsville, Daytona International Speedway, and Watkins Glen among others. However, he has only missed extended time once, the 2013 season. A collision with Joey Logano hurt his lower back and kept him out of four races.
With the exception of the 2013 season, Hamlin continues to race week in and week out while contending for wins. He has yet to reach Victory Lane in 2021 but still leads all drivers in the points standings. When he does take the checkered flag, his mother will be there to celebrate another achievement in his career.