Denny Hamlin was among multiple NASCAR Cup Series drivers who recently visited Las Vegas, checking out some of the many activities surrounding the much-ballyhooed November 19 Formula One race in Sin City.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who finished fifth in the 2023 season, unexpectedly became a part of the news when he appeared in a photograph on X with seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton that included a description of the pair — “Denny in the peak of his ‘come to 23XI’ pitch” — suggesting that the 23XI Racing co-owner might be trying to convince the English driver to race for his team in the future.
Hamlin escalated that conversation to another level when he posted his own photo of their discussion that showed him shaking hands with Hamilton and included a description that unsurprisingly sparked speculation.
“This was actually the peak of the pitch,” the three-time Daytona 500 winner wrote, implying they had some sort of handshake agreement.
Recent History of F1 Drivers Racing in NASCAR
While some might dismiss Hamlin as being funny and kidding around, it’s not hard to imagine there could be some truth to what he said. It’s not odd for F1 champions to compete in NASCAR. There’s a history of it.
Jacques Villeneuve, who won the championship in 1997, debuted in NASCAR 10 years later. He last raced in the 2022 Daytona 500.
More recently, 2007 champ Kimi Raikkonen ran for Trackhouse Racing at Watkins Glen in 2022. He returned for a second event this year at the March 26 Circuit of the Americas race. The 2009 title winner, Jenson Button, joined him on the Texas road course. It was the English driver’s first of three races in 2023, including runs on the Chicago Street Course and Indianapolis Road Course.
Why Denny Hamlin and 23XI Racing Are a Good Fit for Lewis Hamilton
What makes Hamlin’s remarks even more intriguing are the recent actions of his 23XI Racing team in 2023. The organization welcomed motorsports legend Travis Pastrana to the team, and he qualified for the season-opening Daytona 500, where he impressively finished 11th.
That move by itself showed the team’s willingness to think outside the box and bring on drivers from different disciplines. However, that was the first of two such moves.
Former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi made his NASCAR Cup debut with 23XI during the August 13 race on the Brickyard road course. He finished 33rd.
So there’s precedent for 23XI Racing and an F1 driver.
For Hamilton, there’s also a connection to Hamlin’s team. Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top series, and the Brit have shown mutual admiration for each other over the last several years since the American was thrust into the spotlight as a top figure in the nation’s conversation on racial justice.
At this point, it’s all speculation. Hamilton racing in NASCAR may never happen. However, if it does, Hamlin might refer to what many viewed as an innocent photo that featured him shaking Hamilton’s hand as the moment that started it all.