Entering the 2019 Cup Series season, Hamlin was considered by many to be in danger of losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, likely in large part because he went winless in 2018 for the first time in his career.
Hamlin, however, seemed to answer most of the doubters right away, winning the season-opening Daytona 500 and locking himself into the playoff picture.
And if anyone thought that was a fluke, Hamlin added another victory weeks later at Texas.
Two weeks ago, he went head-to-head with Kevin Harvick at New Hampshire but came up short. He didn’t have long to dwell on ‘what ifs’ as he passed two of his JGR teammates on his way to an overtime victory Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Suddenly, the talk has changed from whether Hamlin would stay at JGR after this season to whether he’s now “peaking too early” on his way to another run for a championship.
Hamlin would hear none of it.
“I’ll tell you, there’s no such thing as peaking too early. If you’re winning races, you’re giving yourself a buffer in the playoffs,” Hamlin said. “I think any work we can put in now will just help us in the playoffs if we do stub our toe and have a bad race.
“It happens, bad races do happen in the playoffs. It happens to even championship guys. You just have to make sure you have that cushion.”
With the way the rules are now, which give drivers the opportunity to collect stage points and critical playoff points, being able to consistently race for wins has never been more important.
“I feel as long as we keep putting the effort in what we’re doing, I have as good a shot as any,” Hamlin said. “Wherever the cards fall, they fall.
“I’m not going to work any harder or any less than I am right now. I feel like I’m doing everything I can to be better.”
In fact, Hamlin said, he believes even at 38 years old and with more than 13 fulltime seasons in the Cup series, he is still finding ways to improve on the race track.
“I feel like I’m still learning every single week how to be a little bit better. That’s why it’s still kind of a veteran’s sport,” he said.
“We have the old experience that we’ve learned for the first 10 years of our career, even though they’ve changed the cars, changed the rules, changed everything about it. We have that experience, but we’re still learning and getting better as well.
“It’s still an old man’s sport.”
There is certainly precedent for a driver earning his biggest accolades late in his career.
Five of Richard Petty’s record-tying seven Cup series titles after he turned 30 years old. All of Jimmie Johnson’s seven titles came after his 30th birthday. Six of the late Dale Earnhardt’s seven titles came in his 30s.
Even more recent: Kevin Harvick has earned his only Cup title and 23 of his 46 career Cup wins since his 38th birthday.
Rather than wrapping up his career, Hamlin instead appears to be kicking off a resurgence.
And the silence of his doubters is deafening.