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Analysis: Denny Hamlin running really well, somehow missing that first 2021 win

Despite the glaring zero in the win column, Denny Hamlin is annihilating the 2021 leaderboard.

Actually, he’s even dominating select categories in the all-time statistics book through nine races.

The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota pilot not only has the most laps led out of the current NASCAR Cup Series garage, he has led the most laps ever for a driver without a win at this point in the season, topping David Pearson’s mark of 595 in 1975. Hamlin has the most top-five results (eight) out of his competition, and that marks the second most ever, falling only to Cale Yarborough, who had nine in 1974. Hamlin’s five stage wins are the most right now and matches the most all time (stage racing was introduced in 2017). His 434 points has him atop the current standings, with the series’ only two-time winner, Martin Truex Jr., trailing him in second by 81.

TALLADEGA: Weekend schedule | Betting odds | Paints schemes

Hamlin is showing consistency throughout races, too. His average running position this year stands at 4.55 – the only driver running within the top five like that. Truex is the next best at 7.05. Hamlin’s average finish is a 4.22. Joey Logano is next at 8.33.

Out of the 2,594 laps run in 2021, all of which Hamlin has completed, he has been in the top five for 1,977 – that’s 76 percent. His top-10 time turns out to be 90 percent. Both are series-best marks.

That’s good.

No, that’s really good.

And his marks are bound to get even better this Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Hamlin has two career wins – 2014 spring and 2020 fall (most recent race) – at the 2.66-mile Alabama track in 30 career starts. Those wins also double as Toyota’s only in the last 24 events. There are six Toyotas entered in Sunday’s field, and that matters because of the superspeedway style of racing that requires teammates and manufactures to work together for success. There are many more Chevrolets (18) and Fords (16). Hamlin has proved he can overcome that deficit.

In fact, Hamlin has won five total and two of the last five superspeedway races, the other track being Daytona International Speedway at 2.5 miles. Between the two venues, he has placed in the top five in the last six races, including fifth at Daytona in this season’s opener where he led a race-high 98 of the 200 laps.

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BetMGM has Hamlin as Sunday’s favorite at 13-2 odds.

If Hamlin wins at Talladega, he would mark the series’ ninth different winner in 10 races. In order to do that, he’ll have to turn around his recent late-race luck.

Hamlin has been passed for the final lead in the last two races with 16 or less laps to go until the checkered flag. Alex Bowman took over with 10 remaining at Richmond Raceway last weekend, while Truex did so with 16 left at Martinsville Speedway the week before.

The point is, Hamlin has performed really well this season – but he hasn’t been able to complete the job on track.