CREW CHIEF: Chris Gabehart
TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing
POINTS: Fourth in NASCAR Cup Series
WINS: Seven (Daytona 500, Darlington II, Homestead-Miami, Pocono II, Kansas I, Dover I, Talladega II)
LAPS LED: 1,083
TOP 5s: 18
TOP 10s: 21
POLES: Three (Homestead-Miami, Talladega II, Charlotte Roval)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: While his JGR teammates often struggled to convert performance into wins, Hamlin had one of the best seasons of his Cup Series career.
A career-best average finish of 9.3 was boosted by his seven race wins, the most he’s had since his eight-win campaign in 2010.
Hamlin also led the series with 11 stage wins, and cracked over 1,000 laps led for the first time since 2012 (1,226).
It all added to his third career Championship 4 appearance (2014, 2019).
WHAT WENT WRONG: Hamlin became the fourth driver to win consecutive Daytona 500s, but his team’s celebration was quickly curtailed in the wake of Ryan Newman‘s vicious crash at the checkered flag. Both Hamlin and Gibbs said they initially didn’t know the severity of the incident, and Gibbs issued an apology.
Later in the year, Hamlin had a chance to claim another “crown jewel” win in the Brickyard 400, but crashed out of the lead with seven laps to go following a tire failure.
In the playoffs, an ill-timed caution cost him a chance to advance to the Round of 8 at Las Vegas (he made up for it the following week with a win at Talladega). Hamlin ultimately made the Championship 4, but at the title finale in Phoenix, he struggled on overall speed. After failing to lead a single lap, he finished fourth, worst among the remaining contenders.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2021: Considering the past two seasons for Hamlin, Gabehart, and the No. 11 team, it’s no surprise that JGR’s crew chief changes for 2021 didn’t touch them. They were JGR’s undisputed top team in 2020, and if the organization can find more speed across the board in 2021, they could get even stronger. Hamlin will also become a team owner for the first time in the Cup Series, as he and Michael Jordan’s new team, 23XI Racing, hits the track with driver Bubba Wallace.