Denny Hamlin is looking like one of the championship favorites already this season. Hamlin, brought his No. 11 Toyota home in third during Sunday’s Instacart 500 at the Phoenix Raceway for not only his fourth top five finish in his last five starts on the 1-mile Arizona oval, but also his fourth top five in five races run this season as well.
Through five races last year, Hamlin only had two top five’s, so to double that one year later despite not wins yet, he’s encouraged.
“I mean, our consistency is really good,” Hamlin said. “Really every week last year we had a chance to win most weeks. It’s just whether we took ourselves out of it through mistakes or not. So far this year, knock on wood, we have been good on the mistake front.
“We haven’t had that dominant car like we’ve had during some races last year yet, other than Daytona. I thought our car was very, very good. We’ve just been hanging around that second, third, fourth all year.
“It’s a good start because we got something to build on here.”
Another part that Hamlin is encouraged by is the improvement from the entire Joe Gibbs Racing camp on the 750 horsepower package. Last year, JGR struggled a bit on them. Team Penske was by far the favorites in this package while Hendrick Motorsports gained steam as the season went on.
With the addition of several road courses to go along with the final two races of the season being on 750 tracks, JGR knew the most important part of the offseason was to spend a lot of time and resources on improvement in this area.
So far, it proved to be working.
We’ve had two races on 750 tracks this season and JGR has won both of them. Christopher Bell (Daytona road course) and now Martin Truex Jr. (Phoenix) make them 2-for-2 while Hamlin was third in each. Following a great year on these tracks in 2019 but a down year in 2020, he’s happy with how much progress that they’ve made so far in 2021.
“I mean, the 19 has had a good car. Their short track program, I think they stand out to me as one of our best short track teams at JGR. I mean, it was encouraging for me that we did run in the top five all day,” Hamlin said. “The 19 ran in the top five all day. We were not good on the short tracks last year. In 2019 I think our worst finish in the 11 on a short track was fourth, maybe fifth. We had all top fives at every short track.
“Last year, if we could run sixth or seventh, it was probably a decent day for us. Hopefully this is a sign that we kind of worked on the right things and are heading in the right direction.
“But good for him for winning. I wish it was me.”