Call it a statement win for Denny Hamlin on Sunday.
He led more than half of the race at Kansas and picked up his fifth win of the season (and third in the past 12 races).
Coming off a winless 2018, Hamlin’s 2019 started with a win in the Daytona 500. Since 2000, the only driver to win the 500 and a championship in the same season is Jimmie Johnson, who did it twice.
The success has followed throughout the next 31 races of the season. The five wins are his most since 2012 (also five), and the 17 top-five finishes are already the most he’s ever had in a single season. Sunday, he got up to 21 top-10 finishes on the year, one off his career high. And his average finish was lowered to 9.3, which would be his best ever in a season.
With 36 wins, Hamlin already has established himself as one of the best never to win a championship: Only Junior Johnson (50) and Mark Martin (40) have more wins without a Cup title. That’s a list he’d like to take himself off this season.
There’s plenty of time to revisit Hamlin career notes, let’s focus on his victory Sunday at Kansas, and the best from the NASCAR weekend.
It doesn’t matter where you start
Hamlin started 23rd, but he’s shown an ability to come from any starting spot to win in the playoffs. There have been 156 playoff races dating back to 2004, and only 14 of those have been won by drivers starting 23rd or worse. Five of those have come from Denny Hamlin. He has just four playoff wins when starting 22nd or better.
He holds the record for the worst starting spot to win a playoff race, 38th at Homestead in the 2009 season finale.
Hamlin’s average start in his nine playoff wins is 21.9. That’s the lowest among the 27 drivers to win at least one playoff race, and the only driver with an average start lower than 20th in their wins.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Hamlin led 55 percent of the laps in his win. He becomes the first driver to win a race when leading more than half of the laps despite starting outside the top 20 since… Hamlin himself, in the 2012 playoff race at New Hampshire.
Sweet 16 for JGR
That was the 16th win of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing, extending a team record and nearing the Modern Era (since 1972) record set by Hendrick Motorsports, which had 18 in the 2007 season.
Already, the 16 wins are tied for the 10th-most by a team in a single season. But the current schedule is 36 races long — for seasons before the Modern Era, we’d see more than 50, and even more than 60 races in a season. So, let’s take a look at it through the eyes of winning percentage.
JGR has won 50 percent of the races this season, the same rate that Hendrick had when they won 18 of 36 races in 2007.
There’s only been two other occurrences of a team winning at least half of the races on a schedule in a season. In 1967, Petty Enterprises won 27 of 49 races (55 percent) and in 1956, Carl Kiekhafer’s team won 30 of 56 races (54 percent).
Flipping the field at Kansas
Qualifying was undoubtedly unexpected at Kansas. Whether it was Daniel Hemric getting his first pole, or a pair of Front Row Motorsports drivers in the top 10, it was a starting lineup nobody saw coming.
But that also made it likely we were going to see some volatility in the field.
That came to fruition, as none of the top-10 starters finished in the top 10 at Kansas. It’s just the fourth time in Cup Series history (at least in the races that have starting positions recorded) that no top-10 starter had a top-10 finish in a race. The other three, alongside with the winners that Denny Hamlin joined:
• July 6, 2014: Aric Almirola wins at Daytona
• March 11, 2007: Jimmie Johnson wins at Las Vegas
• July 4, 1965: A.J. Foyt wins at Daytona
The best finish for a top-10 starter at Kansas was 14th by Kyle Larson (started fifth). That tied the 2007 Las Vegas race for the only race in Cup Series history in which no top-10 starter finished 13th or better. In that race, Elliott Sadler finished 14th after starting third.