BY AARON BURNS, @AaronClayBurns
At first, I was intrigued. Now, I’m just impressed.
The NASCAR Cup Series has held nine races this year. Denny Hamlin has eight top-five finishes. He’s led 694 laps.
He has not won a single race. It’s beginning to defy logic that one driver can be so dominant and, yet, so unsuccessful.
Hamlin led 207 laps last Sunday at Richmond Raceway. You could even say Hamlin dominated, considering he won Stages 1 and 2.
You knew he wasn’t going to win. He was too fast. Things were going too well.
Last Sunday, after a spectacular Formula 1 race and a good IndyCar Series race, Richmond had all the makings of a dominant Hamlin day foiled by a late-race caution that led to another second-place finish.
“It just didn’t happen. I just got to digest it, look at it and see where we could have been a little bit better. But ultimately there’s nothing I can do. My effort was as high as it could be. There’s nothing that’s glaring that I feel like I could have or should have done differently.”
Hamlin enters Talladega with a monstrous 81-point lead over Martin Truex Jr., and he’s become to superspeedway races what Chase Elliott is to road courses: he’s better than his peers on them.
Will Hamlin win this week? I don’t know. He’ll probably win Stage 1, lead 85 laps and finish second or third.
Then again, hear me out: this could be the week.
Maybe Talladega, the site of two Hamlin triumphs -- including one last fall -- is the place where he breaks this incredible string of near-wins.
Hamlin’s on pace to lead 2,776 laps and get 32 top-five finishes, so there’s no question he’s been the fastest driver this season.
He just hasn’t been the man up front on the last lap. He’s off to a historic start that’s both impressive and depressing.
How does Hamlin handle it?
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “You’re upset in the moment. You feel like you should capitalize when you have great cars. But in the big picture, we are running very strong and in contention each week.
“I’d rather be where I am than Alex Bowman. I don’t care that he’s got a win. We’re smashing everyone. I’d still rather be where I’m at.”
Look for Hamlin to be aggressive on Sunday.
His No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry will be fast. We know that. Add in the fact that he’s got to be getting impatient, and Hamlin has to be the favorite.
It’s worth noting that I have yet to correctly pick a winner in this column.
Hamlin has yet to win a race. It’s a match made in heaven.
Denny’s going to deliver at ‘Dega.