<
>

NASCAR StatWatch: Denny Hamlin in good company with comeback season

Denny Hamlin was winless in 2018. This year, he has won six races, including the Daytona 500. AP Photo/Ralph Freso

Denny Hamlin did what he had to do, win at Phoenix to clinch his spot in the championship four.

Say what you will about these points and championship systems, but it has put the focus on winning races, rather than on consistency, making each individual race more important, and the late-season races ultra-important.

Hamlin was fifth in points after the Phoenix race, but that victory put him into the championship four. Joey Logano, who was third in points among the eight remaining playoff drivers, will be shooting for, at best, a fifth-place finish in points.

Or, glance over at the Truck Series, where if the playoff field wasn't set first by wins, or if the season champion was crowned solely off accumulated points, we wouldn't get to see America's favorite watermelon farmer, Ross Chastain, race for a championship.

But we'll revisit the series champions next week. Let's take a week to appreciate the action we saw at Phoenix.

Way to bounce back

Last year, Hamlin finished 11th in points and failed to win a race. This year, a Daytona 500 victory and a grand total of six Cup Series wins. Plus, a career-best 9.5 average finish, 19 top fives and 23 top tens.

Let's focus on those wins. Hamlin is already just the sixth driver in series history to win at least six times after not winning at all the previous season.

He's just the second to do so in the Modern Era (since 1972). The other was Tim Richmond, who went winless in 1985 driving the No. 27 car owned by Raymond Beadle. The next year, he won seven times driving the No. 25 Folgers car (great looking car) for Hendrick Motorsports. What was even more impressive that year was Richmond didn't win in the first 12 races of the season, and got all seven of those wins in the final 17 races.

The other four to do it:

• 1965 Dick Hutcherson (nine wins)

• 1964 David Pearson (eight wins)

• 1958 Junior Johnson (six wins)

• 1955 Tim Flock (18 wins)

Of the previous five, only Richmond and Pearson ran more than five races in the previous season. So Hamlin joins a pretty short, and impressive, list.

Daily cup of Joe

This could be the last update to a story I've been following in this column all season, the domination of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Sunday, they tied the Modern Era record for most wins by a team in a season with 18. That mark was set in 2007 with Hendrick Motorsports. The common thread there was Kyle Busch, who won once for Hendrick in 2007, and four times (so far) this year with Gibbs.

This is the eighth time in series history a team has won at least 18 races in a season. The record is 30 by Carl Kiekhaefer's team in 1956. An impressive feat, made slightly less impressive by the fact that they ran 56 races that season.

A 19th win this year would give Gibbs the most by a team since Petty Enterprises won 22 in 1971. That season, Richard Petty won 21 times himself, and Buddy Baker won once.

Gibbs is led by Martin Truex Jr.'s seven wins this season, so nobody's reaching double-digits. That makes Joe Gibbs Racing the first team in Cup Series history with at least 16 wins in a season and no driver winning double-digit races.

Oh Canada!

Another driver who was victorious this weekend and will have a chance to race for a championship is Stewart Friesen in the Truck Series. It was Friesen's second career Truck Series win, the other coming earlier this season at Eldora.

Friesen will now go to Homestead with a chance to be the first Canadian driver to win a championship in any of the three NASCAR National Touring Series (the Cup, Xfinity or Truck series), and just the second non-American driver, along with Mexico's Daniel Suarez (although they're both NORTH American).

Another list Friesen joined with his Phoenix victory is the relatively short list of foreign-born drivers with multiple wins in the three National Series.

He joins fellow Canadian Ron Fellows (six wins), Suarez (three wins), Australia's Marcos Ambrose (seven wins), Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya (three wins) and Brazil's Nelson Piquet Jr. (three wins).