Denny Hamlin has been one of the best drivers in NASCAR for years now. He has won everything from the Daytona 500 all the way down to getting himself a grandfather clock at Martinsville. There has always been one race that no matter how hard he tries, or how many chances he gets, Hamlin may never win, and that is the Championship race. Hamlin has made 4 appearances as a championship driver and has never finished above 3rd place in the standings. He has also never really contended for the race win and been a real threat to win it all. There are many reasons that Hamlin has not won, luck and bad pit calls are a few, but I think the big one comes down to mindset. Championship drivers across the last few years have not all had two things in common, they stay out of drama for the most part, and in the last few weeks they talk racing and racing only (for the most part). Hamlin, especially this year, did not exhibit any of these going into the final weekend.
Hamlins poor mindset started a week before Phoenix when, at the end of the Martinsville race, Hamlin decided to get his payback on Alex Bowman for spinning him, by running him down and trying to stop his celebration. After the race he proceeded to call Bowman a “hack” and say he was not a good driver. Later on in the week during media day, he expressed his anger at the fact that Bowman never reached out to apologize, something he does not have to do. This was not a great look for Hamlin when he later said that he loves the chaos and thrives under it despite showing time and time again when things get chaotic and do not go his way he lashes out. None of the other drivers competing for a championship said a word about any issues they have had with any driver throughout the season, they all talked strictly racing, Hamlin could have just as easily said he would only answer racing questions but instead chose to feed the fire.
It got worse for Hamlin when during the race he never really found his groove. All race he ran around the top 5 until everyone let the drivers fight for the title on their own, and never had the speed any of the other 3 drivers had. Hamlin looked slow all weekend and only led during pit cycles for the most part. He was never a threat. After the race Hamlin stated there was not much more he could have done to win the race or race better. He could have just been more focused on winning the race instead of taking digs at Chase and Bowman and bigging himself up as some master under pressure when really he isn’t.
Hamlin will continue to have a hall of fame level career and will go down as one of the greats but something tells me he will never win the elusive NASCAR Cup Series championship. There is a glaring bruise in his reputation and if he does not flip his mindset there is no way he can ever win one. Eventually his racing career will end and he can dominate the sport as an owner with 23XI for many years to come.