Denny Hamlin has never won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award. Chase Elliott has won it three years in a row. Knowing that history, plus factoring in the derogatory comments he directed at Elliott’s fans late in the 2021 Cup Series season, Hamlin took to Twitter and called on his fans to turn the tide against all odds and make him NASCAR’s most popular driver.
Denny Hamlin booed at Bristol
It started at Bristol. Denny Hamlin walked out onto the stage during driver introductions and was surprisingly showered with a chorus of boos from the stands.
“I love you all, too,” Hamlin said to the crowd, which drew a big chuckle from the NBC broadcast team.
“That’s perfect,” Kyle Petty said.
“What a great line. I think the boos caught him off guard,” Marty Snider replied.
While the boos at Bristol might have surprised the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, it became a thing in the season’s final races.
Booed again at home track and during season finale at Phoenix
At Martinsville, Hamlin’s home track, fans weren’t happy with him after the race when he impeded Alex Bowman’s burnout celebration. They let him know about it during his postrace interview on pit road when the boos grew so loud he had to ask the interviewer to repeat a question.
During the postrace press conference, a reporter asked Hamlin what he thought of the fans booing him at his home track.
“It’s just Chase Elliott fans, man. They don’t think straight,” Hamlin said. When asked if it bothered him, he didn’t hesitate with his reponse. “No, not at all. They’re going to boo the s*** out of me next week, I can tell you that.”
And he was right. At the final race of the season in Phoenix, fans had an extended opportunity to voice their displeasure for the 40-year-old driver when a mistimed introduction had him standing at the end of the stage by himself for almost a minute. Embracing his villainous role, Hamlin held his hand up to his ear and encouraged the crowd.
Denny Hamlin calls on fans to vote for him
With the conclusion of the 2021 season, in which Hamlin finished third in the standings and Elliott finished right behind him in fourth, the next competition for the drivers is the Most Popular Driver Award. Elliott is still considered a favorite, although Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson’s historic season might garner him some votes and make it closer than many might expect.
Hamlin’s chances, just based on what transpired at the end of the season, in particular the comment on Elliott’s fans, make him a long shot at best. Despite the odds being overwhelmingly stacked against him, the good-humored driver took to Twitter and suggested now might be his time.
“I believe it’s my time to finally make a run at this,” he wrote. “Stand up Hamlin Nation.”
Fans can vote online at www.nascar.com/mostpopulardriver. Voting runs through 11 AM on December 1.