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December 26, 2023

Denny Hamlin 2023 season in review

Denny Hamlin looks on
James Gilbert
Getty Images

Editor’s note: This continues the series where we review the top 20 in 2023 NASCAR Cup Series points.

Season in review: Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Crew Chief: Chris Gabehart
Final 2023 Ranking: 5th
Key stats: 3 wins, 14 top fives, 19 top 10s, four pole positions, 998 laps led

How 2023 ended: Even after another stellar multi-win season, the NASCAR Cup Series veteran just missed out on qualifying for the Championship 4. At a track — Homestead-Miami Speedway — where Hamlin is one of the series’ best, his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffered a mechanical issue late in the race. The resulting 30th-place finish in that penultimate round proved too much to overcome for a Championship 4 berth. It was a gut-wrenching blow after a fantastic season that included a playoff victory at Bristol Motor Speedway and a runner-up effort at Kansas — part of an impressive seven top-10 tally during the 10-race playoff stretch. Hamlin ultimately finished fifth in the championship for the third time in his career and the second consecutive season.

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Best race: Hamlin’s playoff victory on the paved Bristol half-miler was an impressive way to secure a win and make a strong competitive statement. He led 142 laps on the night — including the final 135 laps of the 500-lap classic — and raced away to a huge 2.437-second victory over his friend and fellow perennial championship challenger, Kyle Larson. The Bristol success was part of a four-race streak of top-five finishes launching Hamlin into the runner-up position in the playoff standings at the time.

RELATED: Hamlin: ‘I beat your favorite driver – all of them’

Other season highlights: After 18 full-time seasons at NASCAR’s highest level, the three-time Daytona 500 winner was in prime form, still competing for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. He led laps in 27 of the 36 races — three times, he led at least 100 laps in a race. His 998 circuits were close to being his seventh season with 1,000 laps led. His summertime trophy at Pocono Raceway was the seventh of his career at the notoriously tough 2.5-miler, most among all active drivers, and he finished top five in the championship standings for the fifth consecutive year. This marked the 12th season Hamlin won multiple races and that Bristol victory was a milestone 50th win. His 51-win total ranks him 13th on the series’ all-time winner’s list. Only Kyle Busch (63) has more among active drivers.

Stat to Know: Hamlin’s 608 laps led in just the 10-race playoff run was more than all four championship-eligible drivers during that time and more laps led than two of them accumulated on the entire season.

Quotable: “The 50th was the big one for me, but other than that, they [the wins] were all mid-part of year or early in the year, and it didn’t matter when it came right down to it because the formula to win a championship has changed. You just have to win Phoenix. … I believe championships are won differently now. It’s not about dominating for a whole season it’s about dominating for a very short portion of the season and it coming at the very end.” – Denny Hamlin about the mindset around battling for a championship.

Looking ahead: Hamlin had shoulder surgery during the offseason to repair a nagging injury that he quietly dealt with at the end of the 2023 season. Back at full strength physically and highly motivated for a title shot in 2024, expect Hamlin to again establish himself as a champion favorite. Even in his dual roles as a competitor and team owner (23XI Racing), winning races has never proven an issue, and this year, the veteran has promised to approach the season title with a different strategy — placing a heavy emphasis on the playoff tracks and scheduling. And, of course, Hamlin would love to steer the No. 11 JGR Toyota to a fourth Daytona 500 win in the season-opener, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough’s Daytona 500 trophy haul. Only NASCAR’s “King” Richard Petty (seven) has more.

MORE: Hamlin reveals severity of shoulder injury