DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Denny Hamlin moved one contract closer to being a lifelong Joe Gibbs Racing driver Thursday, signing an extension that included a new deal for longtime sponsor FedEx.
The reigning Daytona 500 winner had the extension announced as FedEx honored him with a highlight video of last year’s victory, the closest finish in race history.
FedEx has been with JGR since 2005, and the only primary sponsor Hamlin has had at NASCAR’s top level.
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”I wake up every day thanking my lucky stars I’m in the position I am in,” said Hamlin, who added he’s never really explored free agency. ”I’ve been a horse with blinders. Everything has been so good at home, why venture out?”
Hamlin has 29 career Cup victories and is a stalwart of the Gibbs organization. He made his Cup debut with the organization in 2005 and was the full-time driver of the No. 11 team the next season. It makes Hamlin the longest tenured driver of a stacked Gibbs lineup, even after the abrupt departure of Carl Edwards.
Hamlin is still teamed with 2016 champion Kyle Busch, two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth and Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez.
Terms of the deal were not released. Neither were details of FedEx’s extension. At 36, Hamlin probably thinks he has roughly a decade left on his career.
Hamlin was about to begin the final season of a four-year deal signed in 2012. He joked, ”I’ll be much grayer” when this new extension expires. He also said ”I’m fairly confident,” when asked about his long-term status with an organization stacked with talent.
The Gibbs camp has so much talent – it is currently stashing rookie Erik Jones at sister team Furniture Row Racing – and it was a smooth transition after Edwards told the team he was quitting in late December.
Edwards had come just 10 laps away from winning his first Cup champion when he crashed while leading November’s season finale. A month later, he told Gibbs he wasn’t going to drive this year, and the team seamlessly brought Suarez up from the Xfinity Series.
Gibbs was going to be too crowded eventually, and Suarez was going to have to be promoted sooner rather than later.
Although Hamlin has never won a title, he’s invaluable to the Gibbs organization. He’s an industry leader, a key player in the driver council and one of the more recognizable NASCAR drivers.
This year, Hamlin is honoring J.D. Gibbs, the oldest son of the team owner and the listed car owner for Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. It was J.D. Gibbs who discovered Hamlin and gave him a test with the organization – a gesture that took the Virginian from local, short-track star to NASCAR superstardom. Hamlin placed the initial ”J.D.” in the signature above his door for this year’s season.
J.D. Gibbs had to relinquish his role as team president as he battles health issue that affect his brain function.