Denny Hamlin is coming home, sort of.
He’s headed back to Richmond, a track he’s comfortable at, a track just up the road from his hometown Chesterfield, a track where he’s been dominant at in his career.
The truth is, Hamlin hasn’t won at Richmond since 2016 and has in fact only won at three times over 15 full seasons in the Cup Series. If anyone feels dominant at this track, it’s not Hamlin. It’s his Toyota teammates Martin Truex and Kyle Busch.
They’ve won the last four races at Richmond, with Busch sweeping both races in 2018 and Truex winning both last year.
Hamlin can joke about once having “an advantage” at the Virginia tracks, but he knows deep down that any advantage he once has is now gone.
“I basically left my notebook on the top of the car and it spread all over the race track and and every driver picked it up,” he said. “Data sharing crushed my advantage or any advantage I once had at that race track.”
Hamlin knows Richmond and Martinsville better than most. But his dominance in the Dominion isn’t what it once was. Truex, who had never won a short-track race in his life a couple of years ago has now won the last four combined at the two Virginia tracks.
So after the frustrating weekend at Darlington, Hamlin is feeling pressure to dominate this Sunday. He wrecked trying to hold off Ross Chastain in the Xfinity race Saturday, and he and his team screwed up a routine pit stop in the Cup race to finish 13th last Sunday.
He’s still fuming over that. Hamlin, who is certainly one of the best racers ever, is notoriously inconsistent when pitting, one of the reasons he’s 19th all-time in Cup wins (43) but has yet to win a title.
This would seem to be one of his best shots at winning a championship, but it takes consistency along with power and driving skill. It also takes some luck.
So having two of his favorite tracks still ahead in the playoffs should bode well for his chances,
First, he has to figure out how to win at Richmond again. Since his last win in 2016, he hasn’t led many laps, much less the last lap. His points advantage coming into the playoffs gave him a cushion to overcome races like last week, but now he goes to a familiar place with extra motivation.
Another bad finish Sunday, and he’ll be on the hot seat headed into Bristol.
Richmond seems to be the perfect place for Hamlin and his team to restore order to his season, get a good finish if not a win, and resume his long chase for an elusive title.