Fantasy owners begin 2019 with an impression of Joe Gibbs Racing’s strength. The overall assessment is fair, but one should not lose focus on the fact that most of those good vibes surround Kyle Busch and his legitimate championship challenge.
For the first time in his 13-year career as a NASCAR Cup driver, Hamlin failed to win a race. He finished second twice and third four times. Given the way Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated Victory Lane, that is not surprising and would not limit his attractiveness as a fantasy option.
However, both of his runner-up finishes and one of those thirds came in the second half of the season after the narrative of his struggle was already deeply ingrained in players’ minds.
In 2018, Hamlin was rarely able to post strong finishes in back-to-back races. He had consecutive top-fives in four of the first five weekends with a 17th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway interrupting the flow. He had a three-race, top-10 streak in May, but after that he was much more likely to finish outside the top 10.
We are fond of saying that a rising tide elevates all the ships in the harbor because that is a truism. Overall, the organization is expected to be stronger this year than last. The addition of Truex in the No. 19 will help – as will the fact that Jones has a another season under his belt.
Hamlin’s improvement is going to be noticeable on flat tracks first because that is typically where he runs best. If he challenges for the win at Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway and Martinsville Speedway in the first third of the season, fantasy players can be relatively safe in earmarking him for the other flat tracks. With about 10 solid places to start Hamlin, fantasy owners have a good starting point for his season.
Also keep an eye on him at Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500 because statistically that is his best track on the circuit.
Three Best Tracks
Darlington (6.2 in 13 attempts)
Richmond (9.6 in 25)
Martinsville (9.8 in 26)
Three Worst Tracks
Sonoma (18.7 in 13)
Atlanta (18.3 in 19)
Daytona (16.8 in 34)
Victories: None, best finish of second at Martinsville II and Dover II
Top-fives: 10 (.278)
Top-10s: 17 (.472)
Top-15s: 28 (.778)
2018 Finishes at or above their rank? = 21 (58.3%)