CREW CHIEF: Mike Wheeler
TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing
WINS: 2 (Loudon 1, Darlington)
LAPS LED: 710
TOP 5s: 15
TOP 10s: 22
POLES: 2 (Charlotte 2, Homestead-Miami)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Hamlin had a strong second half of the season. He made the playoffs and looked like a potential Championship 4 contender. … With his win at Darlington and fifth-place finish at Richmond 2, he went into the playoffs with strong momentum. … Tied previous bests for most top-fives (15) and most top-10s (22) in a single season.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Hamlin struggled too much in the first half of the season, including four finishes of 20th or worse in the first 11 races, and just one top-five and three 4 top-10s in that time. … But what really sank him was his 35th-place finish in the next-to-last playoff race at Phoenix (due to a crash). Had it not been for that wreck, Hamlin potentially could have reached the Championship 4, but didn’t.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018: Hamlin is a perennial favorite to be a championship contender. Yet he still hasn’t won his first Cup crown. He’s finished sixth the last two seasons and has four top-5 season finishes and seven finishes from sixth through 10th in 12 full-time seasons. At 37 years old, he only has a limited number of years left in his driving career. Will he ever get that elusive first championship? Time is running out. He has to elevate his game in 2018, lest he’ll likely be relegated to yet another good – but not great – season.