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Denny Hamlin has a massive gorilla on his back. He knows it. Everyone knows it. He’s won 51 races in his career but hasn’t won a NASCAR Cup Series championship.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has insisted that 2023 is different. He’s got the confidence to finally pull it off. However, according to one of his fellow competitors, Aric Almirola, the 42-year-old won’t just fail to win the title this year. He also won’t even advance to the Championship 4 in Phoenix, despite what Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have predicted.  

Denny Hamlin insists 2023 is his year

In his 17 previous full-time seasons, Denny Hamlin has amassed an impressive 51 victories, including three Daytona 500s. Despite that high level of success, capturing a championship has been elusive for the No. 11 pilot. 

He’s come close, including a runner-up result in 2010 and third-place finishes in 2006, 2014, and 2021. This year, the veteran driver has recorded another solid season with three wins, including a victory at the Bristol night race in the playoffs. 

With that success comes confidence, which he’s admittedly had in the past. But this season, the driver believes it’s different.

“It’s our year. I just feel like we’ve got it all put together,” Hamlin said in his post-race interview at Bristol. “We’ve got the speed on every single type of race track. Nothing to stop us at this point.”   

Aric Almirola says Denny Hamlin won’t even make it to the Championship 4

Aric Almirola has been a regular guest on NASCAR Race Hub in 2023, discussing the various news topics of the day with the panel. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver appeared on the show this week and debated with fellow guest Andy Petree about whether Hamlin would make it to the Championship 4. The vice president of competition at Richard Childress Racing said he believes the No. 11 will make it to Phoenix and even has a good chance of winning it all this time around.   

“Wow. I’m going to disagree with Andy on this one,” Almirola said. “He says that he’s really good under pressure. At some times, yes. But at other times, no, and we’ve seen it time and time again. Is this team capable? Absolutely. They’ve shown it all year long. They’ve got the speed. Denny does a great job.

“I just feel like Denny in times when it’s mattered the most, especially at Homestead. Denny has won plenty of races at Homestead, but when it’s mattered the most, when he’s had opportunities to win the championship at Homestead, he hasn’t gotten it done. 

“And then you look at Martinsville. He’s been so good or so bad there. So I think these next two weeks are really kind of scary. I think the team is certainly capable. They’ve got speed in their race cars. They do all the things, but I just feel like in key moments, they haven’t — Denny specifically — hasn’t executed, and I think he would even say it himself. I think it’ll be interesting to see how that 11 team performs these next two weeks.”

Almirola’s remarks aren’t totally accurate


Daily Driving a NASCAR Racecar Would Be An Absolute Nightmare

While many fans, particularly Denny Hamlin critics, will readily agree with Almirola’s remarks about the JGR driver’s inability to get it done, the SHR driver’s comments, specifically those about Martinsville, aren’t accurate.

Hamlin has raced 35 times on The Paper Clip. He’s scored 18 top-5s — or more than half the time he’s raced the half-mile track — including five victories. More broadly, he’s earned 28 top-20s in those starts for an average finish of 10.3 and has led 2,226 laps. Those numbers are hardly indicative of a driver running “so bad there,” as Almirola suggested. 

Will Hamlin win the championship in 2023? Time will tell. But the chances of him making it to the Championship 4 are high, and of the two remaining tracks, he has the best chance to lock himself into that final race at Martinsville.

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