Denny Hamlin has etched his name on the Harley J. Earl trophy for the second time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, marking his 32nd race win at NASCAR’s highest level.
The victory also earned Hamlin his fourth triumph in crown-jewel events, scoring a pair of Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 2010 and 2017.
But do those accomplishments make Hamlin a lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, or will he need to earn that elusive championship to prove himself worthy of the legendary accolade? NASCAR.com’s Brad Norman and Chase Wilhelm debate.
WILHELM: Yes, Denny Hamlin is hands down a lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame with his second Daytona 500 victory on Sunday. I’m a firm believer that a driver’s potential place in the Hall of Fame doesn’t ride on whether or not a championship is won (i.e., Mark Martin), rather, there are multiple factors to consider.
Hamlin became only the 12th driver in history to win multiple Daytona 500s. In addition, he has a pair of Southern 500 victories, five Martinsville wins, a win on every type of race track on the circuit, along with 17 Xfinity Series and two Gander Outdoors Truck Series victories. Hamlin has placed 11th or better in the final points standings on 11 occasions in 13 full-time seasons, while also ranking third or better three times at season’s end.
While the 38-year-old has more years behind him than ahead of him, Hamlin still has a decent chance to hoist the big trophy in Miami before it’s all said and done. But with the stats as they stand right now, Hamlin already has a place among other greats of the sport someday.
NORMAN: The question here isn’t whether or not Denny Hamlin will have built a Hall of Fame resume by the time he retires, at whatever point that comes in the future. The question is whether or not Hamlin, as of this very moment, has done enough to be inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And he has not.
Let’s not get lost in this post-Daytona 500 bliss here. Hamlin’s NASCAR history would be the envy of most other drivers at the sport’s highest level. His crown jewel wins — four of ’em — absolutely hold weight. But as it stands right now, he simply hasn’t done enough. Not yet.
With 32 wins, Hamlin is tied with Dale Jarrett — yes, a NASCAR Hall of Famer himself — on the all-time wins list. “Wow, he’s so much better than I am,” Hamlin remarked when told of that after his Daytona win. “Those are guys that, I mean, I idolized growing up. I shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Dale Jarrett.”
What stops Hamlin from being a lock is, yes, the lack of a title. And not just the lack of a Monster Energy Series championship — the lack of a title in any of NASCAR’s three national series. The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran, though, has plenty of time to bolster his case over the next several years. And bolster it, he’ll need to do. Because he’s not quite there yet.