Denny Hamlin will make his third appearance in the Championship 4 in search of his first NASCAR Cup Series title.
Hamlin By The Numbers:
2 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series career wins at Phoenix Raceway (2012, 2019).
3 – Number of appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff’s Championship 4 (2014, ’19 ’20)
7 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins during the 2020 season.
11 – Number of stage wins during the 2020 season.
9.0 – Average starting position for the first 35 races of the 2020 season.
9.5 – Average finishing position for the first 35 races of the 2020 season.
10.2 – Average starting position at Phoenix Raceway.
11.1 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2020 Playoffs.
11.3 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.
13 – Number of career top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
17 – Number of career top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
17 – Number of top-five finishes during the 2020 season.
20 – Number of top-10 finishes during the 2020 season.
54 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2020, most among Champ 4.
97.7 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway, fifth-best among active drivers.
100.3 – Season-to-date driver rating, fourth-best among active drivers.
821 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.
1,083 – Total number of laps led in the 2020 season.
9,301 – Total number of laps completed in the 2020 season (99.3%).
Third time might be the charm for Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin burst on the NASCAR Cup Series scene fulltime in 2006, and ever since he has been a force in the series, year-in and year-out. The 39-year old has competed in the series for 15 full-time seasons, qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 14 of them. This season will mark the third time the Virginian has made the Championship 4 round (2014, 2019, 2020) and Hamlin is hoping this time is the year he gets his first title. If Hamlin were to accomplish the feat this weekend, he would also become the first NASCAR Cup Series driver from Virginia to win a championship.
In 2014 he qualified for the final round in the Playoffs, but finished seventh in the season finale at Homestead-Miami and ultimately third in the championship standings. Last season he advanced to Championship 4 for second time in his career, but a tough call on pit road in the season finale was costly for Hamlin and he finished the race in 10th and ultimately fourth in the final championship standings.
NASCAR.com: Why Hamlin will win the 2020 Cup Series title
Hamlin’s best finish in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings came in 2010 when he finished runner-up in the points behind Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin kicked off 2020 with his third victory in the Daytona 500, locking himself into the Playoffs in the opening week of the schedule. Since then, Hamlin has been one of the best in the series this year. In 35 starts, he has posted seven wins, 17 top fives and 20 top 10s. His average finish this season is a stout 9.5.
The path to Phoenix was a rocky one for Hamlin
The Joe Gibbs Racing standout, Denny Hamlin, had to bank on his series leading 54 Playoff points a few times this postseason, but despite the slow start he has advanced to the Championship 4.
Hamlin stumbled out of the gate this Playoffs finishing 13th (Darlington), 12th (Richmond) and 31st (Bristol) in the Round of 16. It wasn’t until the Round of 12 did he start to step it up, when he finished third at Las Vegas and won at Talladega to guarantee his spot in the Round of 8. He finished the Round of 12 with a 15th-place finish at the Charlotte ROVAL. In the Round of 8, Hamlin was methodical with his strategy and pointed his way into the Championship 4 by finishing 15th (Kansas), ninth (Texas) and 11th (Martinsville).
Denny Hamlin is the only driver from last season’s Championship 4 (Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick) to make it back to the final round in 2020. Hamlin and Joey Logano are the only two remaining title contenders with previous Championship 4 experience. Brad Keselowski won his series title in 2012 prior to the inception of the elimination-style Playoff format in 2014 and Elliott will be making his Championship 4 debut this weekend.
Hamlin’s previous performance in cactus country
For the first time in series history Phoenix Raceway will host the season finale race and set the stage for the Championship 4 to compete for the NASCAR Cup Series title. And the change in venue is a welcome one for Denny Hamlin.
The one-mile Phoenix Raceway is one of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s best tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series, having made 30 series starts collecting two wins (2012, 2019), 13 top fives, 17 top 10s and two poles. His average finish at Phoenix is 11.267, fifth-best in the series and best among the Championship 4. He also ranks in the top 10 in several key pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 11.487, sixth-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 97.7, fifth-best, 453 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-best and 6,759 Laps in the Top 15 (72.2), fifth-most. He started third and finished 20th in the Phoenix Cup race earlier this season.
Crew Chief Corner: Chris Gabehart
The powerful duo of driver Denny Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart are the only team from last season’s Championship 4 to make it in this season’s, proving they are a force to be reckoned with.
Since joining forces with Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team, Gabehart has led the crew to 13 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories (2019, 2020), two Playoff appearances and two Championship 4 appearances (2019, 2020).
The Hamlin-Gabehart pair has combined for the following achievements in 68 NASCAR Cup Series races together since 2017:
- 13 wins
- 35 top fives
- 43 top 10s
- 1,874 laps led
- 3 poles
- Two consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearances (2019, 2020)
- Two consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2019, 2020)
Under Gabehart’s leadership this season, Hamlin has earned 15 top fives, 18 top 10s and has hoisted the most trophies (seven) since a career best eight-win year in 2010.
If Hamlin and Gabehart win the championship this season, Gabehart will become the 41st different crew chief in the series to win a championship.