The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry won his first race of the 2021 season, holding off Kyle Larson at Darlington Raceway in the Cook Out Southern 500. Denny Hamlin moved on to the Round of 12, but he also topped a Hall of Famer on the all-time wins list.
Hamlin locked up the 45th win of his career at Darlington and moved into the 18th position. He previously sat in a tie with Hall of Famer Bill Elliott with 44 wins, but Hamlin now has sole possession of the spot while the retired driver sits 19th overall. Buck Baker sits just ahead of Hamlin with 46 wins in a career that lasted 26 years.
Hamlin will have several more opportunities to pass Baker and move up the list during the remaining playoff schedule. He will next head to Richmond Raceway, a track where he has three previous wins. After that is Bristol Motor Speedway where Hamlin has two wins.
Hamlin actually has 20 wins at the remaining playoff races. His list of victories includes five at Martinsville, two at Talladega, two at Phoenix, three at Kansas, and three at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Veteran Locked Up Another Crown Jewel
The Cook Out Southern 500 victory served as a historic win for Hamlin for multiple reasons. Not only did he move up the wins list, but he also added another Crown Jewel to his collection and further cemented his place in NASCAR history.
There are four Crown Jewels on the NASCAR circuit — the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500, and the Brickyard 400. Several drivers have jewels in their collection, including Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch.
Hamlin is currently second on the list of active drivers with Crown Jewel wins. He has six jewels overall after winning the Daytona 500 three times and the Southern 500 three times. He has yet to capture the Brickyard 400 or the Coca-Cola 600 but has one runner-up to his name. He finished second behind Kasey Kahne in the 2012 Coca-Cola 600.
Kevin Harvick currently tops the list with the most Crown Jewel wins. He has one win in the Daytona 500, two in the Coca-Cola 600, two in the Southern 500, and three in the Brickyard 400.
Hamlin First Reached Victory Lane in 2006
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver did not wait long before making an impact on the NASCAR Cup Series. He kicked off his full-time career in 2006 and quickly locked up the first two wins. He reached Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway on June 11 and then won again at Pocono on June 23.
Hamlin reached the playoffs for the first time on the strength of these two wins, as well as eight top-five finishes. He finished the season third overall in the standings behind Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
The veteran has continued to fight for wins every season of his career since 2006, only failing to reach Victory Lane during the 2018 season. Hamlin has nine seasons in which he won multiple races. He posted a career-high eight wins in 2010 and then fell one race shy of matching the mark in 2020. He also won six races in 2019 before finishing fourth in the season standings.