The Untold Truth Of Race Car Driver Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin is one of NASCAR's biggest stars both on and off the track. As a driver, he's one of the Cup Series' most consistent performers, with 46 wins to his name, including three Daytona 500 victories and a career average finish of 13.0, according to Racing Reference. Off-track, Hamlin also serves as a part-owner of 23XI Racing, a team he started in 2021 with legendary basketball player Michael Jordan.

For his entire NASCAR Cup Series career, Hamlin has been behind the wheel of the instantly recognizable purple and orange No.11 FedEx car for Joe Gibbs Racing, a team owned, of course, by Hall of Fame football coach Joe Gibbs.

Even in his early 40s, Hamlin is still a fierce competitor on track, chasing down the one career milestone that has eluded him through his NASCAR career: a Cup Series championship. His 46 wins are the second-most for a driver without a championship, behind only Junior Johnson (via USA Today).

Hamlin's early career

According to his website, Denny Hamlin was born on November 18, 1980 in Tampa Florida, but was raised in Chesterfield, Virginia. At 16, Hamlin took up racing mini stocks, and won his first time out (per Snap Lap). He would graduate to Grand Stocks before moving to Late Model Stock Cars, a class of short-track racing that he still competes in from time to time.

According to NASCAR, in 2004 Hamlin made his debut on the national stage in a NASCAR Truck Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. In the race (per Racing Reference) Hamlin would start seventh, before dropping back and finishing 10th, still a strong first showing. He would make appearances in four more races in Truck Series that season.

That same year, Hamlin would make his first appearance in what is now known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the series one step below the NASCAR Cup Series. The debut was with Joe Gibbs Racing — the team with which he'd go on to have a long relationship — in that season's penultimate race at Darlington Raceway. Hamlin made a strong impression with a top 10 finish (per Racing Reference).

Hamlin moves up to the Cup Series

According to Racing Reference, Hamlin's program for 2005 consisted of a full Xfinity Series (then known as the Busch Series) schedule with a handful of NASCAR Cup Series races as well. In both series, he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. According to NASCAR, Hamlin would later say in a 2017 video posted to Twitter that the credit for his involvement with the team goes to the late J.D. Gibbs, Joe Gibbs' son, who passed away in 2019. ​​"He's the one who actually gave me my first opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing. We went to a test at Hickory Motor Speedway, called his dad up, they signed me about 13 years ago."

While he would continue to run occasional races in both the NASCAR Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series throughout his career, Hamlin shifted his full-time focus to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2006, and part of the way through that season he would announce his presence in a big way.

Rookie of the Year

The Cup Series arrived in Long Pond, Pennsylvania for the first of two races at Pocono Raceway, a notoriously fast and difficult track known for its three drastically different corners that earned it the moniker The Tricky Triangle. Hamlin shined, putting his No.11 FedEx Kinko's Chevrolet on pole for the Pocono 500, which he would go on to win, leading 151 of 200 laps en route to his first career trip to Victory Lane. However, he wasn't done at Pocono that season. Just a few weeks later, Hamlin would find himself leading the field to the green flag for the season's second race at Pocono, the Pennsylvania 500. Once, again he'd go on to win. Those wins helped him finish third in the season standings and led to him being named Rookie of the Year.

Hamlin would win one race in each of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with an uptick of four wins in 2009. Then in 2010, he would have a massive season with a career-best eight wins, including a pair of victories at Texas Motor Speedway, one of which he earned by storming through the field from a starting position of 30th.

Success at Daytona

The crown jewel in any NASCAR Cup Series season is the first race of the year: the Daytona 500. It's the most prestigious race on the calendar and winning one becomes an achievement that shoots straight to the top of any driver's resume.

By 2016, Hamlin had yet to find his way to Victory Lane at the 2.5 mile superspeedway. Until then he had some top 5 finishes, with his best being a second place in 2014, just behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr., according to Driver Averages. Hamlin's Daytona 500 fortunes would change in 2016. That year, he'd be the first to take the checkered flag in No.11 FedEx Express Toyota after leading 95 of the 200 laps.

According to NASCAR, Hamlin would once again earn a Daytona victory in 2019 — which came on the heels of a disappointing winless 2018 season — and again in 2020 (also per Racing Reference), which he would win via a last-lap pass on Ryan Newman, who would wind up rolling his car through the infield grass as the checkered flag waved.

Hamlin the team owner

According to his website, Hamlin lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. He's a basketball fan and was a frequent presence at Charlotte Hornets games. It was there that he met and befriended Michael Jordan. According to Alt Driver, Jordan is a noted motorsports fan and had ventured into team ownership with Michael Jordan Motorsports, a motorcycle racing team that operated from 2004 to 2013.

The two became close friends and in 2021 announced the start of a jointly-owned racing team: 23XI Racing. The team signed Bubba Wallace to drive the team's No. 23 Toyota. Meanwhile, Hamlin continued to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. It seems unusual for a team owner to be competing against his own team, but it has happened before in NASCAR, most notably when Dale Earnhardt, Sr. competed against his own team, Dale Earnhardt International, instead driving for Richard Childress Racing (via Bleacher Report).

Despite an up-and-down inaugural season, the team would notch its maiden victory in a rain-shortened race at Talladega Superspeedway (from Racing Reference). Building upon that success the team would add a second car to their operation with veteran Kurt Busch tapped to drive the team's No.45 Toyota.