DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin didn’t have a race scheduled, but he did have a check.
So when he signed a development contract with Joe Gibbs Racing in February 2004, the driver who has a reputation for being a free spender didn’t wait.
“I bought a plasma TV and rims for my Ford Ranger,” Hamlin said with a laugh on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I blew it within a week.”
And he made sure everyone at his family’s trailer hitch company knew about it.
“I got a Joe Gibbs Racing sweatshirt and wore that thing nearly every day to work,” he said. “Because it was like, ‘I’m with the Joe Gibbs Racing team as a development driver.’ Which meant nothing; just that i couldn’t sign with someone else.”
Eventually, Hamlin was slated for a few truck races and then finished eighth in his Xfinity debut at Darlington Raceway in November 2004. JGR named him its full-time driver for 2005, and he was promoted to NASCAR’s premier series the following year.
“It’s a chain of events that I think about all the time that if that didn’t happen or this didn’t happen, I never would have been here,” the defending Daytona 500 winner said. “It makes me wonder how many others are in my shoes from 13 years ago today that didn’t have that one thing that went right so they’ll never be seen. We’ll never know who they are.
“It’s incredible to see this whole process. It was a very tough road. I never remember anyone who went from Late Models on short tracks to racing Cup in one year.”
Hamlin’s break came at a JGR test for its diversity program at Hickory Motor Speedway. The team hired Hamlin to shake down the cars and help the drivers, but J.D. Gibbs was so impressed, he called his father and advised that JGR should get Hamlin under contract.
“I still don’t think today that I get that break unless J.D. Gibbs is at that test,” he said. “I just don’t think it ever happens. I was a 1 in 10 million.”
During the podcast, Hamlin also addressed:
–Reminiscing about his 2016 Daytona 500 victory;
–The reception in his hometown of Chesterfield;
–His role as the leader of the Drivers Council;
You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.