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Statistically Speaking

2015 Forecast: Hamlin, #10

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

After missing four races in 2013 due to a back injury, Denny Hamlin was determined to bounce back and challenge for the Cup. He was off to a great start with a second in the Daytona 500, a top-15 two weeks later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and a pole at Bristol Motor Speedway. He finished sixth in the Food City 500 and seemed to be on his way to erasing the bad memory of 2013 until he rolled into Auto Club Speedway.

Mere minutes before the race began on that two-mile track, it was announced Hamlin would not compete because he failed to secure medical clearance for an eye injury; notably, this was the same race in which he was hurt the previous season. Hamlin’s injury was quickly resolved, but it seemed to take some wind out of his sails because eight of his next 12 attempts ended outside the top 15 and some of those were in the back half of the pack.

The highlight of that period was a victory on the restrictor-plate Talladega SuperSpeedway and that was good enough to qualify him for the Chase based on NASCAR’s new rules. In fact, the plate track proved to be one of the keys to Hamlin’s success. His strong start in the 500 and victory at Talladega were not nearly as important as a sixth in the Coke Zero 400 during the summer.

That strong run at Daytona achieved what the two previous races failed to and gave Hamlin some momentum. In the first 17 races of the 2014 season he scored only five top-10s. In the final 19 races he grabbed 13 top-10s. More importantly, he peaked at the right time to become a legitimate contender in the Chase.

Hamlin knew that the Eliminator round contained three of his best tracks. His best career records include trips to Martinsville Speedway (second-best), Texas Motor Speedway (fifth-best), and Phoenix International Raceway (seventh-best), but in 2014 he struggled on several flat tracks so the outcome was not guaranteed. By his standards, an eighth on the half-miler in Virginia and a 10th in Texas were not overly impressive—he should have challenged for the win both times—but they were enough to keep him in the hunt. A fifth at Phoenix and seventh at Homestead-Miami Speedway was part of six top-10s in his final seven races and gives him momentum entering 2015.

Despite placing all of their drivers in the Chase, however, Joe Gibbs Racing struggled in 2014. Hamlin’s win on the plate track was joined by a victory by Kyle Busch early in the season at Bristol and those were the only trophies the organization took home. The addition of a fourth team for Carl Edwards might provide some added resources that can elevate the program, but that remains an open question.

Fantasy owners should continue to regard Hamlin as one of the short, flat track masters, but they should not put all of their eggs in his basket. See how he performs early in the year at Phoenix and Martinsville before committing to him on minimally-banked courses for the rest of the year.

 

Avg. Finish

Starts

Track

Best Finish

2014 race 1

finish

2014 race 2

finish

6.89

9

Darlington Raceway

1

19

 

8.72

18

Martinsville Speedway

1

19

8

10.41

17

Richmond International Raceway

1

22

21

10.50

18

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

1

8

37

10.78

18

Texas Motor Speedway

1

13

10

10.80

10

Homestead - Miami Speedway

1

7

 

11.00

19

Phoenix International Raceway

1

19

5

11.89

18

Pocono Raceway

1

4

9

13.00

9

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

3

12

 

13.47

19

Charlotte Motor Speedway

2

22

9

14.46

13

Kansas Speedway

1

18

7

15.33

18

Michigan International Speedway

1

29

7

15.33

9

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

3

3

 

16.80

15

Atlanta Motor Speedway

1

3

 

16.89

18

Bristol Motor Speedway

1

6

40

18.89

9

Chicagoland Speedway

5

6

 

19.00

18

Talladega SuperSpeedway

1

1

18

19.00

14

Auto Club Speedway

3

DNS

 

19.17

18

Dover Downs International

4

5

12

19.56

18

Daytona International Speedway

2

2

6

20.00

9

Watkins Glen International

2

24

 

22.75

4

Kentucky Speedway

3

42

 

23.22

9

Sonoma Raceway

5

26

 

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.