Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four stories examining why each driver could win the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
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Denny Hamlin will win the 2020 championship because …
He thinks he can.
I’ll be honest, there’s some cause for concern here. Hamlin’s only win of the playoffs came at Talladega and he has just three top-10 finishes in 10 races since his win at Dover. His 11.1 average finish in the playoffs isn’t mesmerizing when drivers are supposed to be performing at their best.
At no point during a roller coaster of a nine-race stretch to open the postseason did Hamlin seem concerned, down or unsure of the notion that he and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team were going all the way. And despite the surmounting questions since the calendar turned to September, here they are.
It might not have been pretty at times and it probably wasn’t their preferred method of advancing to Phoenix with a title shot, but that part of the job is done. And now suddenly Hamlin, who has three more wins than any of his Championship 4 counterparts, has a shot at his first title for the second year in a row.
And looking a little closer at the results of the playoff races, he led laps in all but two of them, pointing to likely having at least the speed necessary to contend for the win Sunday.
The sting of last year’s disappointment likely still feels fresh, and it certainly wasn’t his first taste of championship letdown. Hamlin will be ready to go on Sunday, and he’ll be sure to do everything in his power to not go through that heartbreak again.
Hamlin’s back-and-forth struggle with Kevin Harvick over the summer as two master craftsmen attempted to out-excellent each other was a blast to watch, and it’ll be a bit of a disappointment to not see that story line conclude in the season finale. That might, however, open the door a bit for 2020’s 1B to Harvick’s 1A to just outright dominate the race.
He entered last season’s finale riding a wave of momentum coming off a win at this very track and fell flat at Miami. With expectations slightly diminished from the height of his midseason dominance, perhaps this year Denny Hamlin’s got ’em right where he wants ’em.