After a winless 2018 in the NASCAR Cup Series, the pressure was truly on Hamlin this season at Joe Gibbs Racing. Tragedy then struck in January, as longtime mentor JD Gibbs – son of team owner Joe – passed away following complications associated with a degenerative neurological disease.
In the mid-2000s, JD had persuaded his father to run Hamlin, using the number 11 that he'd worn in his college football career. Hamlin thrived at JGR, going on to win the 2016 Daytona 500. Just over a month after JD’s death, Hamlin won Daytona again – breaking a 47-Cup race losing streak – amid jubilant and emotional scenes.