Denny Hamlin hasn’t won a single race this year. Yet, he’s No. 1 in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. He’s also a favorite at the sportsbooks this weekend and for the rest of the season.
When you finish in the top 5 a staggering seven times in eight starts, the points still pile up. And with a 76-point lead over Martin Truex Jr., as well as a 77-point lead on Joey Logano, Hamlin is in the driver’s seat (sorry, couldn’t help myself) as the 2021 Cup Series season heats up.
And let’s be honest: Hamlin should have some fire in his belly as NASCAR hits another Virginia racetrack this weekend.
After all, Hamlin grew up in Virginia and learned to drive on the commonwealth’s go-kart circuits. Now he’s back in Old Dominion for back-to-back NASCAR races.
The first part of Hamlin’s Virginia doubleheader ended in heartbreak on Sunday. But what about the finale at Richmond Raceway? The track hosts Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (3 p.m., Fox), where Virginia sportsbooks like Hamlin’s odds to win.
Denny Hamlin comes up short in Martinsville
Hamlin looked like the man to beat this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway. During the rain-delayed Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, he led 276 laps in what turned into a two-day race.
As the final laps ticked by on Sunday, Hamlin desperately needed a yellow flag and some pit time. But the caution never came, and Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott ultimately caught him in the waning laps of the race.
As Hamlin told NASCAR.com of his third-place finish:
“It’s just the cards we were dealt. We had a really good short-run car. We just didn’t have a good long-run car. We just couldn’t get our car to turn in the long run. That was the bugaboo of it, I guess you could say.”
The race conditions simply conspired against him:
Denny Hamlin says it was just a matter of time before Martin Truex Jr. would pass him on the final run in Martinsville: pic.twitter.com/lSbPjAby9Y
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) April 12, 2021
Still, it was another commendable finish in a season that’s a few lucky breaks away from being a dominant one.
That’s a big reason the Denny Hamlin odds to win on Sunday- as well as win the final race of the season- are shrinking.
Toyota Owners 400 odds
Most of the VA sportsbooks had posted Toyota Owners 400 odds by Monday.
NASCAR had to cancel the 300-lap, 400-mile race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Truex is the defending champ after winning the race in 2019.
Hamlin has never won the Toyota Owners 400. However, the 40-year-old has won the Richmond Raceway fall race, the Federated Auto Parts 400, three times. So he knows how to win at “America’s Premier Short Track.”
Truex and Hamlin are among the favorites for the return of the spring race, which will have a limited number of fans in attendance. They’re also both favorites to win the 2021 Cup Series championship.
At DraftKings, for example, Hamlin is +600 (bet $10 to profit $60) for both the Toyota Owners 400 and +650 for a season championship:
Here are the odds for the top drivers, courtesy of DraftKings:
|Toyota Owners 400||2021 Cup Series championship|
|Martin Treux Jr.||+400||+650|
Virginia native Quin Houff posted a respectable and season-best 29th at Martinsville on Sunday. The Weyers Cave driver is +150000 to win on Sunday and +200000 to win a season championship.
However, you can also bet Houff to finish in the top 3 (+30000) or top 10 (+8000), which offer more realistic options and odds.
NASCAR Xfinity Series has week off
After Josh Berry won weather-rescheduled Cook Out 250 on Sunday, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has the week off.
None of Virginia’s Xfinity Series drivers cracked the top 10 at the Cook Out 250. Jeb Burton finished 11th, Gray Gaulding was a season-best 21st, and Brandon Brown was a frustrating 27th.
Brown has now been out of the top 10 in back-to-back races for the first time in 2021. He was obviously bummed after the race:
— Brandon Brown (@brandonbrown_68) April 11, 2021
Burton wasn’t in much better spirits:
Frustrating race for me today live and learn. We will get our turn soon proud of my guys they never give up! On to Dega! 👊🏻
— Jeb Burton (@JebBurtonRacing) April 12, 2021
And Gaulding? Well, he had other matters on his mind:
Joe Graf Jr. vs. Gray Gaulding after the NASCAR Xfinity race in Martinsville. 😳 pic.twitter.com/nBCv7y0Pvg
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) April 11, 2021
Although the Xfinity Series is on a short hiatus, the NASCAR Truck Series is in action this weekend at Richmond.
The ToyotaCare 250 takes place on Saturday (1:30 p.m., FS1). Grant Enfinger is the defending champ. John Nemechek, meanwhile, is the points leader through five races of the 2021 NASCAR Truck Series season.
The shortest ToyotaCare 250 odds are for full-time Cup Series driver/frequent Truck Series competitor Kyle Busch (-130), Nemechek (+750), Matt Crafton (+1000) and Sheldon Creed (+1000).