Denny Hamlin was born in Tampa, Florida on November 18, 1980. Getting behind the wheel of go-karts at age 7, Hamlin transitioned to mini-stocks in his teens. At age 17, he won the 1997 Mini Stocks championship with 7 poles and 5 wins. He then moved to second tier Grand Stocks in 1998 and kick started his journey into the higher echelons of racing. Throughout the late 90s and the early 2000s, Hamlin ran riot in the short tracks around Virginia and Carolina in late models. These performances caught the eye of Markham, a former racer who was associated with the competition department at Joe Gibbs Racing. Though the driver development program at Joe Gibbs Racing was already spaced out with Jason Heffler and J.J. Yeley, the team decided to add one more name to their roster in 2003 and put Markham up to the task of finding them their next star. Holding an audition for several late model drivers at the Hickory Speedway, he invited Hamlin, not to audition but to test and prepare the cars for the event. Watching Hamlin skillfully burn rubber at the track regardless of his purpose on the day, an impressed Markham provided his verdict to J.D. Gibbs that none of the drivers who auditioned were as good as him. This opinion and belief led to Joe Gibbs Racing signing Hamlin onto their board in 2004.