No matter the circumstances, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has made his way to the front of the pack in 2020.
Hamlin started the season by winning the Daytona 500 for a third time. Then the coronavirus pandemic halted the season at Atlanta.
NASCAR responded by introducing the iRacing Pro Invitational Series. And Hamlin — showing the speed in the computer world like in the real world — bookended that series with wins at virtual Homestead-Miami and virtual North Wilkesboro.
Once NASCAR got back on track, Hamlin won the second race at Darlington. Now he arrives at Bristol coming off a second-place finish in Thursday’s Alsco 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“When you’re running good, certainly there’s some momentum to be had,” the 39-time winner in the Cup Series said. “Every time we go to a racetrack the second time, the results are amazing. We’re making the right adjustments, we’re doing the right things, and that’s good because the end of the year in the playoffs you’re going back to racetracks for the second time, and that’s when we need to run well, and that’s what got us to the final four last year.
“I like our chances. I think even though we’re still maybe off a little bit with our organization on speed, I think that we’re still getting good finishes out of it, and we’re weathering the storm until we can get our stuff a little bit better.”
The rest of the series could be in trouble if the No. 11 Toyota gets any faster.
While the 39-year-old Virginia native is always looking for more speed, he’s most grateful to be back on track again at Bristol, where he won in the series’ last visit.
“The most important thing is we’re here putting on a race,” Hamlin said. “All these teams, instead of griping about we don’t have this, we’re not able to catch up ... We’re all grateful in these situations that we’re able to put on a product and race and make the best of what we’ve got.
“We can gripe about what we don’t have all the time, but essentially it’s days where maybe we didn’t have the best car, but we optimized our day. We got the best finish we possibly could, and that builds some momentum.”
Now he’s at one of his better tracks. Hamlin is a two-time winner of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race and he has nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 28 Bristol races.
With the way his team is performing, he’s enjoying every stop on the circuit.
“I would say early in my career, ‘I just can’t wait to get to the short tracks.’ Now I can’t wait to get to a racetrack in general,” said Hamlin, who starts 10th on Sunday. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a road course or short track or superspeedway, anywhere. We can win every single week.”
Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 Lineup
At Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tenn.
Lap length: .533 miles
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford.
2. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford.
3. (22) Joey Logano, Ford.
4. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford.
5. (19) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota.
6. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet.
7. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota.
8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford.
9. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford.
10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota.
11. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet.
12. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet.
13. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet.
14. (42) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet.
15. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota.
16. (47) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chevrolet.
17. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford.
18. (38) John Hunter Nemechek, Ford.
19. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford.
20. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet.
21. (8) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet.
22. (41) Cole Custer, Ford.
23. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford.
24. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet.
25. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford.
26. (53) Bayley Currey, Chevrolet.
27. (51) Joey Gase, Chevrolet.
28. (00) Quin Houff, Dodge, Chevrolet.
29. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet.
30. (27) Gray Gaulding, Ford.
31. (77) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet.
32. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford.
33. (37) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet.
34. (15) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet.
35. (95) Christopher Bell, Toyota.
36. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet.
37. (96) Daniel Suarez, Toyota.
38. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota.
39. (78) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet.
40. (7) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet.