Where Will Denny Hamlin Capture His First Win of 2021?
Denny Hamlin has been one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series this season. He leads the point standings by 76 points over Kyle Larson and William Byron.
He also leads the series in top-five finishes and is second in laps led and stage wins. He’s yet to visit victory lane, despite his success this season.
This is surprising considering how successful Hamlin was in 2019 and 2020. He won six times in 2019 and backed that up with seven wins in 2020. The speed is there to win races, but he just hasn’t been able to close the deal.
Hamlin has been off just a bit lately. He led over 25 laps in seven of the first 10 races this season but has led a combined 17 laps over the last five races.
He’s still consistently finishing in the top five but he’s lacking the race-winning speed we saw early in the season.
With just 11 races left in the regular season, the time for Hamlin to capture a win and pick up some playoff points is running out. The good thing for him is he has a couple of good tracks coming up.
I’m going to look at his five best chances to pick up his first win of the season.
5 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
Let’s start with a little bit of a surprise here. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course is a brand-new track on the Cup Series schedule. Until they show up to the track for practice, these drivers will have no on-track experience.
The Xfinity Series ran here last season, so Hamlin can lean on his teammates in that series to discuss how to drive the track and such.
It’s hard to measure who will be good here just because like I said, we have little frame of reference. Typically, when there’s a new track, the stars of the sport can adapt better because honestly, they’re just more talented than everyone else.
I look at last season when the Daytona Road Course held its inaugural race. The Cup Series didn’t have any practice for that race. Their first laps on the track in a Cup car were during the race.
Hamlin excelled in that race, winning a stage, and finishing second to Chase Elliott. Elliott is the class of the field when it comes to road courses. No matter what road course we run on, he’ll be at the top of the board.
4 – Michigan International Speedway
If Hamlin can’t pick up a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, he’ll have another good opportunity to win a week later at Michigan International Speedway.
Hamlin has two wins at Michigan International Speedway, but his most recent came back in 2011. He went through a rough patch after that win. He finished 20th or worse in five of the following six races at Michigan International Speedway.
In his last five races at Michigan International Speedway, Hamlin has finished outside the top 10 just once. He led laps in all five races and finished runner-up twice.
This race is the second to last in the regular season, so I find it hard to believe Hamlin will get to this point in the season without a win.
If for some reason that happens, Hamlin should be a guy to look out for at Michigan International Speedway.
3 – Daytona International Speedway
Now if Hamlin can’t win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course or Michigan International Speedway, he’ll have one final chance at Daytona International Speedway.
The draft at Daytona International Speedway, along with its counterpart Talladega Superspeedway, serves as an equalizer that gives almost anyone a chance to win.
So, why would I pick one of the best drivers to win a race that is arguably a toss-up? Well, there’s some talent that goes into being a good superspeedway racer.
There are a handful of drivers that most fans would consider experts. Hamlin is arguably the best of the bunch. His three Daytona 500 wins are the most among active drivers.
However, he’s yet to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. But I think if he’s in a position to pick up his first win of the season, he’ll be as aggressive as anyone.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Hamlin has finished inside the top five in four of his last five Daytona races. He led over 30 laps in three of those races. Two of his last three Daytona 500 wins also came in that five-race span.
Despite Daytona International Speedway being one of his better tracks, it’s only third on my list because of the uncertainty. You can run strong all night and get caught up in a wreck with five laps to go. It’s just the nature of the beast.
2 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Now, we’re getting into the cream of the crop. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a track that Hamlin’s has excelled in since his Cup Series career began.
His first three starts at the track yielded finishes of sixth, fourth, and first. He would go on to win two more times in his career here, good enough for second-most among active drivers.
Just like his last five starts at Daytona International Speedway, Hamlin last five at New Hampshire have been outstanding.
Two finishes of 12th and 13th don’t seem that impressive, but they are sandwiched between a win and two second-place finishes. In each of those runner-up finishes, he led over 90 laps.
Hamlin is knocking on the door of another win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Even in seasons where Hamlin has struggled, he always seems to leave the track with a top 10 finish.
This could be the race that starts Hamlin’s championship push.
1 – Pocono Raceway
Pocono Raceway is the track that all Hamlin fans have circled on their calendar. His success at the track is well documented.
His six wins are tied with Jeff Gordon for the most all-time at Pocono Raceway.
Hamlin showed up to Pocono Raceway as a rookie in 2006. He came out, sat on the pole, led the most laps, and won both races. The first win was extremely impressive considering he wrecked from the lead during the race.
Most rookies probably would’ve panicked in that situation, but Hamlin stayed calm and made his way back to the lead and the win.
Hamlin won back-to-back races at Pocono in 2009 and 2010, but he went on a long winless streak at that track after that. But it’s not like he didn’t have the speed in any of those races.
Following the win in 2010, Hamlin led over 19 laps in the following four races.
He began to struggle from there but with two wins in his last three starts at Pocono Raceway. I think it’s safe to say he found his rhythm.
The best thing about Pocono Raceway is they’re holding two races on the same weekend for the second straight season. That gives Hamlin two chances to capture his first win of the season.
Hamlin fans, mark your calendar for June 26 and 27.
Even though Hamlin has been scuffling just a bit over the past few races, there’s no doubt in my mind he will pick up a win before the playoffs.
He’s too good of a driver to not have a win. He could easily have multiple wins this season but things just haven’t gone his way.
Once that win comes, I think it could lead to more and more and jumpstart his championship run. If Hamlin gets hot during the summer, he’s going to be tough to beat come playoff time.
Something to think about when betting on NASCAR this season.