Denny Hamlin is thinking big picture now. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver became the first Cup Series driver to sweep all three stages of a race this season en route to his third victory of the season Sunday in Homestead. No one has as many race wins nor accumulated as many playoff points through 12 races run this season than Hamlin.
“All the time,” Hamlin said when asked when he thinks about the playoffs. “I thought about the bonus points today. Seven more bonus points by winning both stages in the race, that goes a long way.
“I’m excited about hopefully moving up in the points. We’ve had such up-and-down results. We’ve been really fast, but up-and-down results here and there.
“I’m pretty excited that we got the most bonus points right now. I just want to keep building on that.”
Hamlin, had a dominant season a year ago including a Daytona 500 triumph and a win in the Bristol night race. He even marched all the way to the Championship 4 too. Unfortunately, he left Miami last November without the crown. His teammate Kyle Busch did instead.
After all of his success in NASCAR’s top level, one thing in his career that’s eluded him is that coveted title. He’s won the Daytona 500 three times. He’s won the Southern 500. Won at Bristol. Sunday’s win was his 40th of his career joining him with elite company. The championship is the only thing missing.
“Win number 40 is special,” said Hamlin. “I can’t downplay it. I know how special and how much it means to me. It will take some time for me to understand what it means to me. The accomplishment, it’s a big number, a number I never thought I would get to.
“I just have been blessed to have fast cars and be able to execute and do some good things at the right time. I never just imagined 2006, coming in the first year, now having 40.”
Hamlin says the “40” is a good number and one he’s been looking at for a while. He even admitted that at one point he didn’t think he’d reach. Now that he did, he’s readjusted his new number.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a good number. It’s a number that I’ve been looking at for quite a few years. At one point I didn’t know if I’d get there. I’ve adjusted my goals since then. There’s a bigger number I’d like to get to.”
In term of what the number is, Hamlin doesn’t know yet.
“Just I think it depends on how long I go. For me there’s no end in sight. As long as I keep running like this and have success, I don’t know, you keep moving it. You keep just moving the bar just a little bit higher.
“I mean, I don’t take for granted that the people that are in front of me are great, all-time great drivers. I never thought I’d be in this position whatsoever. I’ve just been really, really blessed to be with the same sponsor, the same car and the same team for all of my career.”
Now, it’s a championship focus. All championship, all the time.
“I mean, I’m motivated,” Hamlin continued. “I’m motivated more than ever. Like I said to my crew chief, no matter what is said on social media, he’s always going to get the best out of me. Sometimes – sometimes – like MJ said, you find a way to motivate yourself. Certainly there was a little extra motivation.”
Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart are clicking. It took a while, but JGR has finally found Hamlin’s perfect match. Nothing against any of his past crew chiefs, it’s just this one is the one that is getting the most out of Hamlin.
Following a winless season in 2018, JGR paired Hamlin with Gabehart for 2019. In 45 races together now, they’ve won nine times to go along with scoring 24 top five finishes and 30 top 10s.
That’s drawn high praise from Hamlin to Gabehart.
“We’ve been on a roll these last two years,” Hamlin said. “Myself and Chris have a good thing going. It just works. We have the crazy races like we had last week, but then we come back and do something like this.
“I don’t know. Cars are driving good. I still don’t think we’re at the top of our game with our team yet. I think we’re still got some room to get better. I’m pretty happy that we’re able to reel off some wins right now given the circumstances.
“I trust him and he trusts me. It just seems like I trust him to do the job. He trusts me to do the job. He doesn’t second guess me. I don’t second guess him. I don’t get into the nuts and bolts of the setup. That’s his forté. He doesn’t get into the driving aspect for me.
“I drive a little bit more unorthodox than what my teammates do. He just said that it’s been successful, it’s up to me to build the car to go fast the way you do it. He doesn’t ask me to change and I don’t ask him to change. I think it just works.
“He’s just a hard worker. Last weekend, he was pissed off. Probably more pissed than I was. I left the racetrack, just got to let it go, nothing I can do about it. I drove it as hard as I can drive it and we just sucked. He was on the phone saying that this is just unacceptable, that he’s going to have people’s rear-ends, we’re going to push and we’re going to make sure we get to Homestead and we go win.
“That’s more of a rah-rah type speech, but I don’t doubt it. I know when we get here he’s more motivated, just like I am, especially after a bad week like we had.”
Hamlin is an Uber talented driver with the mindset that it takes. This could be his year for the for sure future Hall of Famer.