When the green flag waves on Sunday, July 12, for the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, Denny Hamlin will reach a significant milestone of his racing career. By starting this Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at the Bluegrass State, Hamlin will reach 700 starts across NASCAR’s three major division series.
A native from Chesterfield, Virginia, who started his career by racing go-karts and Late Model Stock Cars, Hamlin made his first NASCAR division series start at the Indianapolis Raceway Park in August 2004. Racing as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin drove the No. 03 Decoma/Gibbs Performance Chevrolet for EJP Racing to a 10th-place result in his NASCAR Truck Series debut. He competed in four more Truck races with the team and made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Darlington Raceway in November 2004, where he drove JGR’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Performance Racing Oil Chevrolet to a 33rd-place result.
The following season, Hamlin graduated to a full-time driving role in the No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series. Through the 35-race schedule, Hamlin went winless, but he recorded 11 top-10 results, a best finish of third at New Hampshire International Speedway in July and finished fifth in the final standings. In October, he made his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Kansas Speedway in JGR’s No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet, replacing Jason Leffler. He finished 32nd in his Cup debut, but he competed in the final six Cup races of the season. In those six races, he recorded three top-10 results and notched his first career pole at Phoenix International Raceway in November. His strong performances late in the season were enough for him to earn a full-time ride for the 2006 Cup Series season and in the No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet as one of three Cup competitors representing team owner Joe Gibbs.
Based on his pole at Phoenix, Hamlin made his first start of the 2006 season in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway in February. In his first superspeedway race in the Cup level, Hamlin won the 70-lap feature race and became the first rookie candidate to win the annual exhibition event at Daytona after beating icons like teammate Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in a two-lap shootout. At Pocono Raceway in June, Hamlin started on pole and rallied from a spin due to a cut left-rear tire around the one-quarter mark of the race to claim his first Cup win in his 21st start. When the series returned at Pocono in July, Hamlin notched his second Cup career win as he swept both Pocono races and became the first rookie competitor to sweep two wins at the same track since Johnson made the last accomplishment at Dover in 2002.
Hamlin’s two wins along with earning 13 top-10 results throughout the 26 regular-season races were enough for him to qualify for the Chase, thus becoming the first Cup rookie candidate to make the premier series’ postseason battle for the title. He achieved six more top-10 results in the final 10 races before settling in third in the final standings, 68 points shy of the title. When the season concluded, Hamlin was named the 2006 Cup Rookie-of-the-Year recipient as he became the highest-finishing rookie candidate in the standings since the late James Hylton finished second in the 1966 standings.
Throughout the 2006 season, Hamlin also raced as a full-time competitor in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet. He achieved his first two career wins in the series at Mexico City in March and at Darlington Raceway in May. He also competed in one Truck race for Morgan-Dollar Motorsports at Martinsville Speedway in October, where he finished eighth. At the conclusion of the 2006 season, Hamlin also surpassed 100 starts across NASCAR’s three major division series.
Following the 2009 season, Hamlin had competed in 280 races across the three division series and had tallied 17 victories, nine in Xfinity and eight in Cup. By then, Hamlin was still in JGR’s No. 11 FedEx car, but sporting the Toyota nameplate, a move made by JGR in 2008 across NASCAR. The 2010 season was among Hamlin’s strongest seasons to date, where he won a season-high eight races, including one win in the XFINITY Series at Darlington, and was in contention to achieve his first Cup title until late misfortunes in the final two races left him 39 points shy of the title to Johnson. Prior to the season’s conclusion, Hamlin reached 300 starts across the sport’s division series.
The following season, Hamlin also recorded a single victory across NASCAR’s three series. This included his first Truck Series triumph at Martinsville Speedway in October while driving for team owner/Cup teammate Kyle Busch. Through July 2020, Hamlin is one of 32 competitors to win a race across NASCAR’s three major division series.
Hamlin went on to surpass 400 starts following the 2012 season, 500 at the conclusion of the 2015 season and 600 when the 2017 season concluded. By then, he had tallied his Cup career wins to 31, his Xfinity career wins to 26 and his Truck career wins to two. Among his accomplishments included winning five races in 2012 with veteran Darian Grubb, recording the 100th Cup win for Joe Gibbs Racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September 2012, winning in his 300th Cup career start at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2014, recording the 100th Xfinity victory for Toyota at Richmond International Raceway in April 2015, notching Joe Gibbs Racing’s first All-Star win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2015, achieving his first Daytona 500 win in a photo finish with Martin Truex Jr. in February 2016 and winning his second Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in September 2017. His best points result from 2011 to 2017 was third in 2014, where he utilized consistency to make it all the way to the Championship Round, only to fall short of the title to Kevin Harvick.
After going winless in 2018, which marked the first time he concluded a Cup Series season without a victory, Hamlin rebounded in 2019 by winning six races, including the 61st running of the Daytona 500 in February and the penultimate event at Phoenix in November to clinch his spot to the Championship Round, all while working with new/current crew chief Chris Gabehart. In the finale at Homestead, Hamlin had a potential-winning car in the closing laps and was prepared to make a late charge for the championship, but his title hopes were dashed due to overheating issues that forced Hamlin to make an unscheduled pit stop. He finished 10th in Miami and fourth in the final standings, watching from a distance as teammate Kyle Busch won his second Cup title.
This season, through the first 16 Cup races, Hamlin has won four races, including the 62nd running of the Daytona 500. He has also recorded three stage wins, nine top-five results and 10 top-10 results in 2020. He is ranked fifth in the regular season standings and trails points leader Kevin Harvick by 109 points, though he is also guaranteed a spot in the Playoffs by virtue of his four regular-season victories.
Sunday’s race at Kentucky will mark Hamlin’s 10th Cup start in the Bluegrass State, where he is set to start in 12th based on a random draw. In his previous nine starts at the track, Hamlin has logged four top-five results with a best result of third place in 2012 and in 2015. He holds an average result of 14.89 at Kentucky.
Catch Hamlin’s milestone start in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky on July 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1.