The good news for Hamlin is that while he got off to a troubling start this year – he was 25th in the series standings in the fifth race of the season – his two wins since and more consistent placings have kept him in a strong playoff position.
Hamlin is now tied with Ross Chastain and William Byron for the most wins this season (each has two), but neither driver has risen dramatically above the others in terms of playoff points thanks to overall parity and ebbs and flows. Down performances produced with the next generation car.
Typically, drivers who win—especially multiple times—tend to get to the top of the points standings. A little over half of the 26-race regular season has four riders with wins sitting 13th or lower in the points.
No dominant driver with new cars
Two drivers in the top five on points – Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. – have yet to win a points-paying race this season.
“I didn’t really like my place in the playoffs because we didn’t have very many playoff points but nobody has,” Hamlin said. “Right now in our sport there is no dominance by anyone. It’s hard to find consistency in anyone. It is allowed to distribute the playoff points anywhere.
“There aren’t two or three guys like in the past that have 40 (playoff points). That probably won’t happen this year. I think it will become more open. It will force the guys who have been up there all year to run every lap.”
Chastain and Byron, who compete in this weekend’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Gateway, have the most playoff points with 13 points each.
Hamlin now has 12 while there are seven other drivers with six or more. Clearly, no one stood out from the crowd as far as the playoffs go.
In many years, Hamlin’s erratic season may have already left him poorly in terms of playoff placement, but even after 14 races in 2022, despite the slow start, he still has a legitimate shot at winning his first championship.
“Every year it’s like a new chance, right? We went into the playoffs as the best car so many times and did well. This year has been so horrible in the first third that you never know,” he said.
“This could be the year we oversleep (towards the championship). I do not know.”
For now, Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team will take advantage of the improved performance and results. His win on Sunday in Charlotte gave him consecutive top five finishes for the first time this year.
“I’ve already clinched a few wins in the first third of the season,” he said. “Especially as we’re still working to get good at all circuits, I really think I’m pretty encouraged where we are.”
His team owner Joe Gibbs agreed.
“The victories, we started cautiously this year. We didn’t have the wins,” he said. “I think in the last three weeks we’ve started to find our way.
“I think with the new car it’s just a different package. Other people have done a better job than we used to. So we play a bit of catch-up.”