Season Review: Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin

"I really spent the second half of 2017 focusing as a driver what I need to focus on at each given racetrack. Now that I’ve created that log book of information I’m gonna hopefully start 2018 a little quicker than what I have through the course of my career." (Photo: Getty Images)

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2017 Race-by-Race Results | 2017 Detailed Statistics

Denny Hamlin’s 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was one of the best of his career but once again wasn’t good enough to hoist the big trophy at season’s end.

The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota went into the season with high expectations and hopes of finally capturing his first title in NASCAR’s top series but after three finishes of 25th or worse in the first seven races, his hopes of competing for a championship turned into just hoping to make the playoffs.

After a season best third-place finish at Richmond in April, Hamlin went on one of the most consistent streaks of his career and was firmly planted in the top-10 in points by the series’ return to Daytona in July. 

After a 24th-place finish at Daytona followed by a 4th-place rebound the following week at Kentucky, Hamlin went to New Hampshire looking to finally capture his first win of the season.

The weekend in New England didn’t get off to a great start as Hamlin was forced to a backup car following a practice crash on Friday. 

Denny HamlinBut on Sunday Hamlin drove through the field, leading 54 laps on route to his first win of the season and the first win of 2017 for Joe Gibbs Racing. The win also secured him a spot in the Playoffs. 

“We were positioning ourselves pretty good in the regular season points to try to get in the playoffs, but obviously this is a bonus to lock yourself in,” Hamlin said. “Kind of gives you that sense of security if you do have a bad day or two between now and the playoffs."

Following his New Hampshire triumph, Hamlin proceeded to rack up top-five finishes in six of the next eight races including his second victory of the season in September’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. 

Hamlin dominated at Darlington, leading 124 total laps on the night but almost gave the chance at a win away after he missed the entrance to pit road during a late cycle of green flag pitstops. Hamlin was able to rebound and reclaimed the top spot after leader Martin Truex Jr. hit the wall in Turn 3 with three laps to go.

“Tonight through the adversity of missing the pit road and coming back. We had great strategy, a fast car, and it all just worked out in the end,” Hamlin said. "I was hoping it would. Otherwise I would have looked pretty silly after the race trying to explain why we lost.”

Hamlin entered the Playoffs with momentum and escaped the Round of 16 with his championship hopes intact, despite a 35th-place finish at Dover to close the round. 

Three top-10 finishes in the Round of 12 set him up as a potential favorite to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the Round of 8 started at Martinsville Speedway in late October. But a run in with one of NASCAR’s newest stars would be the downfall of Hamlin’s title chances. 

Hamlin made contact with race leader Chase Elliott in the closing laps at Martinsville and ultimately lost the lead to teammate Kyle Busch before falling back to finish seventh. 

Hamlin and Elliott exchanged words on pit road following the escapade that included a shower of boos from the crowd pointed at Hamlin. NASCAR’s newest rivalry was born and would continue two weeks later in the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix. 

Denny HamlinHamlin dominated the first two-thirds of the Can-Am 500, leading 193 laps on the day. But contact between Elliott and Hamlin with less than 50 laps to go cut a tire down and sent Hamlin into the wall and out of the race. His championship hopes were done. 

“We got ran into the fence by Elliott when we running up front all day. We had a bad pit stop and then we didn’t really make any adjustments,” Hamlin said. “Our car got really tight and we were just battling all we could to keep our track position. We weren’t and we allowed our competition to get close to us.”

His displeasure with Elliott was obvious, citing his move at Martinsville was no different than Elliott’s actions at Phoenix. 

“It just proves to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he’d do the exact same thing under the exact same circumstances,” Hamlin said. “I got into him and he chose to retaliate and so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is.”

Hamlin finished the season with a pole and a ninth-place run at Homestead-Miami Speedway - his 22nd top-10 finish of the year which tied for the most for Hamlin in a season in his career. His 15 top-five finishes also tied a career best and 710 laps led were the most for Hamlin in a season since 2012. 

Still, Hamlin’s season was a disappointment, but he doesn’t plan to approach 2018 any different than 2017.

“I really spent the second half of 2017 focusing as a driver what I need to focus on at each given racetrack. Now that I’ve created that log book of information I’m gonna hopefully start 2018 a little quicker than what I have through the course of my career,” Hamlin said. "It seems like it’s always taken me sometimes 10 races into a year to get rolling and get performing well. We need to start that a little earlier this year.”

Click to View Season Reviews for Each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Driver

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