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Hamlin Confident in Role as NASCAR's Villain; Carries Momentum into Round of 12

Denny Hamlin appears comfortable with his role as NASCAR's new villain, and he has built a massive amount of momentum on his path to being one of the favorites to winning the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship.


hero image for Hamlin Confident in Role as NASCAR's Villain; Carries Momentum into Round of 12

It may not be popular among the NASCAR fanbase, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the NASCAR Cup Series garage, who is carrying more momentum into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 than Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin.

The 42-year-old driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, who is still seeking his first-career NASCAR Cup Series title, has vaulted to the top of the championship odds board at several Sportsbooks.

After his latest triumph, Hamlin is a 51-time race winner in the NASCAR Cup Series ranks. No driver ahead of Hamlin on the all-time win list has failed to win a championship. By that metric alone, you would expect Hamlin to win one sooner or later.

But the bigger reason that Hamlin has seen himself emerge as a favorite for the championship heading into the Round of 12, was his stellar performance through the opening three races of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, which made up the Round of 16.

In all three races, Hamlin had a legitimate shot to win.

In the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Hamlin was the class of the field as he led 177 laps. But then, a loose wheel on a late-race pit stop forced Hamlin back down the pit road for an unscheduled pit stop, and as a result, he was relegated to a 25th-place finish.

It was a frustrating finish for sure, but they knew Hamlin was there.

At Kansas Speedway the following week, Hamlin was stout again.

After starting from the 14th position, Hamlin worked his way to the front, and he led 63 laps on the day. In the closing laps, Hamlin had the race lead in hand, and it looked like he was about to cruise to another victory.

Then, the caution came out with five laps remaining.

Hamlin would miss the mark on the final restart of the day, which allowed Tyler Reddick to score the win. Hamlin would come home in second.

After having race-winning cars at Darlington and Kansas with no trophy to show for it, Hamlin would put it all together in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he started second, and led 142 laps, including the final 135 laps, to score the victory over Kyle Larson.

It was an emphatic exclamation point to end the Round of 16.

Now, Hamlin will look to keep the momentum going at Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Hamlin has five victories combined between the three tracks, and he is among the favorites to win again on Sunday in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 in Texas.

Hamlin, on the strength of three race wins, and seven Stage Wins, heads into the Round of 12 as the third seed in the re-racked NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings.

Hamlin is just four points behind William Byron, and Martin Truex Jr., who have been the favorites for the championship for the majority of the season.

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid Heading Into Texas:

SeedNo.DriverPts +/- Cutline
124William Byron+25
219Martin Truex Jr.+25
311Denny Hamlin+21
45Kyle Larson+12
517Chris Buescher+10
68Kyle Busch+8
720Christopher Bell+5
845Tyler Reddick+3
----Playoff Cutline--
91Ross Chastain-3
106Brad Keselowski-3
1112Ryan Blaney-6
1223Bubba Wallace-14

Click Here: Full NASCAR Cup Series championship standings After Bristol

You can feel Hamlin's ascension as a favorite for the title through his vocal sparring with fans. Hamlin, who is no fan favorite, has been relishing his role as NASCAR's villain as of late.

After scoring the win in the 500-lap contest at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night, Hamlin had one of the best villain lines in NASCAR history. As the raucous crowd was showering boos upon Hamlin in disapproval, the driver pumped his fist as he exited his car.

As the boos continued, and one of the fans even tossed a full-sized cucumber on the track, Hamlin stated on the track P.A. system, "Everybody likes a winner, right," which elicited even more of a reaction from the crowd.

You could cut the tension with a knife, but Hamlin would not relent, as he finished his interview with, "Hey, I beat your favorite driver." When asked, who he was talking about, Hamlin fired back with, "All of them."

He's fast. He's confident. And he's embracing his role as NASCAR's villain. Denny Hamlin could very well walk out of Phoenix Raceway this year as a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Imagine the reaction if that were to happen.

Photo Credit: Jonathan McCoy, Racing America

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