Editor’s note: This continues the series of season reviews for select 2022 NASCAR Cup Series drivers.
See more: Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Daniel Suárez, Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, William Byron
Driver: Denny Hamlin
Car: No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry TRD
Crew chief: Chris Gabehart
Final 2022 ranking: Fifth
Key stats: 2 wins, 10 top fives, 16 top 10s, 3 poles, 624 laps led
How 2022 ended: Hamlin was just two points shy of advancing to the Championship 4 for the fourth consecutive season, a feat erased by Ross Chastain’s absurd move around the Turns 3 and 4 walls at Martinsville Speedway that propelled him past Hamlin at the checkered flag. That didn’t erase a stellar playoff run for the No. 11 team, which earned nine top-10 finishes in the final 10 races of 2022 en route to another top-five points finish.
Best race: Coca-Cola 600. Arguments could easily be made for other strong performances for Hamlin’s 2022 season, but his triumph on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval proved the resilience of the No. 11 team. After a dismal start to the season – and even in the year’s longest event – Hamlin rebounded from an early-race incident to score his first career victory in the Memorial Day special after leading 15 laps – netting a critical five playoff points in the process.
Other season highlights: Officially, Hamlin scored two wins in 2022 – one each at Richmond and Charlotte — but he did cross the finish line first at Pocono Raceway after leading 21 circuits as well. The car was disqualified for an illegal body modification, erasing five playoff points and handing them instead to third-place finisher Chase Elliott who was declared the winner. Despite sitting 25th in points after race No. 5 at Atlanta, Hamlin’s performance improved significantly and began leading a noteworthy amount of laps, including a season-high 203 at Martinsville Speedway in the fall. The No. 11 Toyota led significant laps at Dover (67), Nashville (114) and the throwback race at Darlington (42) but failed to reach Victory Lane after his May win at Charlotte.
Stat to know: 15.5 average finish. Hamlin posted his worst average finish since 2013 due to his dismal start to the season. A stellar postseason run couldn’t save the stat, ending an impressive three-year stretch of top-10 average finishes (9.5 in 2019; 9.3 in 2020; 8.4 in 2021).
Quotable: “There’ll be a time where my attention will be more needed as a team owner than a driver, but it’s going to be on my terms and when I want it to happen and when I think it needs to happen. But I don’t think it … I don’t foresee ownership expediting my retirement. I think that my retirement will be a totally independent decision, regardless of where we’re at with the race team.” – Hamlin on his future entering 2023, a contract year with JGR.
Looking ahead: The 2022 season proved to be one of the most challenging of Hamlin’s career, failing to break into the top 20 in drivers points in the first half of the regular season. But he and fourth-year crew chief Chris Gabehart proved they could overcome the odds and be a consistent threat to win once again in the Next Gen era. The biggest difference in 2023 will have to be the team’s execution in closing races. Nine top-10 finishes through the playoffs should be celebrated. But a zero in the win column during that stretch is why Hamlin failed to reach the Championship 4, ending a streak of three straight years with a chance to win the title in the championship race.