Denny Hamlin shows up at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) understandably liking his odds for a first career victory at the 1.5-mile track.
The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is coming off a win in Monday’s rain-delayed Daytona 500, making him the first back-to-back winner in the race since Sterling Marlin accomplished the feat in 1994-95. It is Hamlin’s third Daytona 500 win in the last five years. Only one other driver has won that many Daytona 500s in that short of a time frame – NASCAR Hall of Famer and the sport’s winningest driver, Richard Petty, who won in 1971 and back-to-back in 1973-74.
Hamlin led a race-best 79 laps and won in a photo-finish – only 0.14-seconds ahead of Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney – the second closest finish in the history of the Great America Race.
In 16 starts at Las Vegas, Hamlin has earned only two top-five finishes – the best of those, a third-place effort, came in only his second Las Vegas start in 2007. The 39-year old Virginian has seven top-10 finishes, including a 10th-place showing in this spring race last year.
Toyota has won two of the last six races, the only manufacturer other than Ford to win during that time. Both of those victories (spring, 2017 and fall, 2019) were by Hamlin’s current Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.
The last time a driver won the first two races of a season was 2009 when former JGR driver Matt Kenseth won at Daytona and then at Fontana, Calif.
“Our team is picking up where we left off last year and really clicking so far,’’ Hamlin said. “I’m very happy with our performance, but we still have a lot of work to do and a lot more challenges coming our way. We’ll be ready to get back at it this weekend in Las Vegas and hopefully take the checkered flag.’’