Denny Hamlin is regarded as one of the best drivers in the NASCAR field, and rightfuly so. Hamlin is 87 points clear at the top of the regular season standings and is the only driver in the top 3 without a win. This alone is impressive but when you look at his resume you become even more impressed. 3 Daytona wins and 2 Darlington wins are not easy feats at all. Hamlin also was one bad pit stop away from 3 in a row in the Daytona 500. But is he hall of fame quality?
Despite all the great things Hamlin has done there is one major thing Hamlin has not done, win the Cup Seires Championship. Having been to the big race 3 times and coming out winless in all of them is a big factor holding Hamlin back in my opinion, but it is not the only factor. For me, great drivers need 3 things, 1. Skill 2. Drive to win (win at all costs) 3. Striking true fear in other drivers.
Breaking these down a little more the first clear thing you need to be a hall of famer is skill. This can mean many things, in NASCAR it means benign able to drive all track types and be a serious contender on any track layout in any conditions. Hamlin has more than mastered the superspeedways of Talladega and Daytona and is well above average at every other track on the schedule and is almost always a contender to win. Every race weekend, most of the time you will see the FedEx #11 car inside the top 5 and if he isnt there he is amking a charge to get there.
2 and 3 more or less go together as drive to win strikes fear in opponents. This showed through early in his career when Hamlin got known for not benign able to make the championship despite being one of the best, and then once he started making it, choking. Hamlins lack of win at all costs that the greats (Earndheardt, Petty, Gordon, Johnson) shone through very clear in the Bristol Dirt race, Hamlin restarted right behind Logano and instead of going through and giving him the bumper, Hamlin flew up the track and fell back through the field. This showed that Hamlin does not want to win at all costs and is, I wouldnt say content with second place, but he does not seem to get too beat up over losing a race he should have won.
Hamlin trying to take Logano on the outside really showed that this year will again be a miserable year for him becasue no driver is scared of leading with Denny behind them. If you look in your mirror and see the #22 of Logano you know that fight for the finish is going to be hard, if you see the #11 of Hamlin you should consider yourself lucky because you earned a free, uncontested win.
For me, Hamlin is 100% in the HOF but will not be considered a GOAT (top 5) if he can not achieve a championship, and there’s no better year than this year to make his case as a serious top 5 of all time contender.