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2020 TReSports ePreview: Denny Hamlin Racing

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the sixth installment of the 2020 TReSports ePreview! The 2020 eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series kicks off on February 11th, 2020, at the virtual Daytona International Speedway. The goal is to have a preview for each team out before that date.

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Casey Kirwan and Keegan Leahy will drive for the new Denny Hamlin Racing team in 2020. DHR logo by Denny Hamlin. Jumpman logo by Nike / Air Jordan.

There are five new teams that are signed up to compete in the eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series in 2020.

One of those teams, Denny Hamlin Racing, has already made waves in the series only a few short weeks after being added to the series.

Denny Hamlin already had ties in the sim racing world, well back before he was a regular on the NASCAR tour.

Besides driving in high level leagues in the NASCAR Racing 2003 Season days, Hamlin has often tied part of his early successes at Pocono Raceway to practicing on the virtual track before ever physically turning a lap there.

Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the NASCAR Cup Series, partnered together with the Air Jordan brand to field two drivers in the 2020 season.

Hamlin signed on with the Air Jordan brand back in 2011, and now extends that partnership over to the eNASCAR world in his first campaign as a team owner in the series.

As far as drivers are concerned, Hamlin signed up a pair of winners in his fledgling season as an owner.

Casey Kirwan will assume the duties of the new No. 23 car for Denny Hamlin Racing in 2020.

Kirwan enters his third season in eNiWCS in 2020. Last year, Kirwan won the vote for the 2019 Most Popular Driver Award presented by Team Razer.

In 36 career starts, Kirwan has one victory, four Top 5 finishes, and eleven Top 10 finishes. The lone victory came last season in thrilling fashion against Zack Novak at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In 2019, Kirwan was drafted 16th overall by Clint Bowyer Racing, and drove the No. 14 Ford Mustang to a 10th place overall finish in the driver’s standings.

For Kirwan, driving for Hamlin was an easy choice after their dealings during free agency.

“We were contacted by Denny, and Denny was extremely hands on with it,” Kirwan said. “He was very interested in everything that had to do with being in the series, and everything that it takes to be good.

“Everything with being associated with the Jordan brand is going to be huge for the series. It was something that I think we both just wanted to be a part of.”

The other half of the team, the driver of the No. 32 for Denny Hamlin Racing in 2020, is none other than one of the 2019 standouts, Keegan Leahy.

Leahy has been a threat to win ever since he entered the series in 2018. Like his new teammate, Leahy also has 36 career starts as both he and Kirwan entered the series together out of the same Pro Series class.

Of those 36 starts, five of them have resulted in visits to victory lane. More than half of his starts have resulted in a Top 5 effort, 19 total in his career. Leahy’s resumé also includes six career pole positions, and 23 career Top 10 finishes.

Drafted fourth overall by G2 eSports to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in the 2019 eNASCAR iRacing draft, Leahy was closer than anyone else was to winning the title last season over the eventual champ, Zack Novak.

During the offseason, Leahy said he had a hard time deciding who he was going to be racing for in 2020, but ultimately decided on Denny Hamlin Racing.

“The free agency period was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life,” Leahy said. “I had ten extremely high profile teams and organizations contacting me, and I just weighed the options, figuring out who is the best fit for me, and who I’m the best fit for, as well.

“Especially after the phone call we had (with Denny), and the hands-on experience with him, I’m just really excited to work with him.”

2019 KIRWAN/LEAHY SEASON REVIEW

As mentioned before, 2019 was both Kirwan and Leahy’s sophomore seasons in the eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series.

Teaming up in 2020 is just the next chapter in both of their stories, which have intertwined since they both graduated from the iRacing Pro Series.

Both drivers had career seasons in 2019, improving year-over-year from what they were able to accomplish in their 2018 rookie campaigns.

It was a slower start to the season than Kirwan was probably hoping for, as he had no Top 10 finishes in the first seven races of the season. A consistent showing kept him in the conversation, but it wasn’t until Charlotte Motor Speedway where he was able to score his first Top 10 finish of the season.

Leahy, on the other hand, was hot out of the gate, collecting five-straight Top 5 finishes to begin the 2019 season.

Charlotte was an important event for both drivers, as Leahy was able to capture his first victory of the season after two disappointing finishes at Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway in the two prior races.

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Keegan Leahy crosses the line to win at Chicagoland Speedway on June 25th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Leahy collected his second win on the year a few weeks later at Chicagoland Speedway, which cemented him as a favorite for the title entering the 2019 playoffs.

Kirwan ended the regular season on a high note, as he collected his first career victory at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The battle had higher implications, as the results from Bristol would determine the eight drivers racing for a championship in 2019.

Kirwan had an outside shot at making the Round of 8, and did everything in his power to put himself in a position to sneak in.

He needed help though, as Novak and Nick Ottinger both needed to have poor finishes to have it come to fruition. Novak wound up second and made the playoffs, which eliminated both Ottinger and Kirwan from playoff contention.

Overall, Kirwan took home a 10th place finish in the driver’s points standings.

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Casey Kirwan (14) passes Nathan Lyon (4) en route to his first career victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 20th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

In the Round of 8, Leahy had about as good of a run as one could have without clinching in via victory lane.

With finishes of fifth, third, and fifth at Darlington Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Charlotte ROVAL, Leahy locked in to the Championship 4 battle with Novak, Blake Reynolds, and Bobby Zalenski.

At one point at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as he had done at many points in the 2019 season, Leahy extended his lead to a point that looked so insurmountable that, unless a caution were to wave, it would be tough to beat.

Those cautions did come, and in the closing laps, it was Leahy chasing Novak for the title.

Leahy had opportunities to take it, but the pair kept it clean, and off of Turn 4, it was Novak who was crowned champion, with Leahy coming home with a highly respectable second place effort.

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Keegan Leahy (62) battles Zack Novak (6) for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 10th, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

2020 VISION

Looking forward to the 2020 season, both of the new Denny Hamlin Racing drivers know what they realistically have to do for a successful year in their minds.

“For me, I just want to make the playoffs,” Kirwan said. “I haven’t made that yet. I came close last year… you don’t have a shot unless you do that, so that’s the main goal. Once we get there, maybe we can make the final four, and maybe battle for a championship.”

“I just want to make sure that I keep limiting mistakes,” Leahy said. “Last year, I led the most laps, by far, but I didn’t win the most races at all. I need to be closing out these races, not just leading them. I have to get the results.”

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Casey Kirwan came close to victory at Pocono Raceway on July 23rd, 2019. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

***

The eNASCAR iRacing World Championship Series season begins at Daytona International Speedway on February 11th, 2020. The race is expected to be streamed live on iRacing’s Twitch stream, with the start time usually at 9:00 pm ET.

Look for ePreview #7 soon!

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Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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