Analysis: Reason to worry for Denny Hamlin as Round of 8 continues at Texas?

Terrin Waack
·3 min read

Denny Hamlin is trending the wrong way at the wrong time.

The NASCAR Playoffs continue with its second Round of 8 race at Texas Motor Speedway, and the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota doesn‘t have the best track record at the 1.5-mile venue in Fort Worth, Texas.

TEXAS: Weekend schedule | Paint schemes | Betting odds

Sure, Hamlin ties Kevin Harvick for the most wins at Texas among playoff contenders with three. But two of Hamlin‘s victories came in 2010 — a solid decade ago. His third win was last year but during the spring event rather than the fall showdown.

Screen Shot 2020 10 22 At 4.10.32 Pm
Screen Shot 2020 10 22 At 4.10.32 Pm

Since the current postseason format was installed in 2014, Texas has hosted six playoff races. Hamlin‘s best finish in that span is a third-place run in 2017, which doubled as his only top five. Otherwise, he has three results of 28th or worse. (See chart to right.)

Earlier this season, Hamlin placed 20th in the spring event at Texas. He led 11 laps and came in third and 15th in the two stages.

That race marked one of 10 on 1.5-mile tracks this year. Among active drivers, Hamlin ranks sixth in average finish (10.5) with that oval length. He won at two different places — Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Neither was a postseason event.

Screen Shot 2020 10 22 At 4.10.15 Pm
Screen Shot 2020 10 22 At 4.10.15 Pm

Hamlin‘s hot start to the playoffs, entering as the second seed with six wins, has started to simmer. In the seven races so far, Hamlin won just once — Talladega Superspeedway, where his average running position was worse than 20th. He has only one other top-five, top-10 finish. (See chart to left.)

Awaiting the middle race in the Round of 8, Hamlin currently sits third in the standings with a 20-point advantage on the cutline. He had a 32-point cushion before the opener at Kansas Speedway last weekend, but a 15th-place finish left him with a 12-point loss despite placing third in Stage 1 and even winning Stage 2. Fourth-place Brad Keselowski sits just — wait for it — 12 points below Hamlin now.

Through the first 24 races of the season, Hamlin had just eight finishes outside the top 10. He has now finished outside the top 10 in six of the last nine races.

Two races remain before the Championship 4 is set. One berth is already secured by Joey Logano, thanks to his Kansas win, leaving seven drivers vying for three spots. Texas presents the first opportunity when the race resumes Monday (10 a.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Then, Martinsville Speedway will play host to the final elimination event Nov. 1.

In 29 starts, Hamlin has won five times at Martinsville — most recently in 2015, not the playoff race. Hamlin has made the Championship 4 twice in his career (2014 and 2019). He has fallen short in the Round of 8 just as many times (2016 and 2017).

In 15 full-time seasons, Hamlin is still searching for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.