By Greg Beacham
The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — Maybe Denny Hamlin can channel his fury over his $25,000 fine from NASCAR into a fast finish at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hamlin got docked for his pessimistic comments about the new Gen-6 car, and his anger over the decision overshadowed the week leading up to NASCAR’s third race in an already interesting season.
While Hamlin stewed and refused to pay the fine, most drivers think today is their first real chance to test their new rides on the intermediate tracks they’re built to race.
The Vegas race is a bit too early in the season for gambling, however. While most teams are still brimming with optimism after the first two races of the season at Daytona and Phoenix, some drivers think it’s not too early to start worrying about the overall standings.
“It’s so important to get that momentum and the points base established,” Clint Bowyer said. “We’ve already seen teams struggle the very first two races and get themselves behind.”
Brad Keselowski was awarded the Vegas pole after rain scrubbed Friday’s qualifying session, putting him in prime position for his first top-10 finish in Vegas.
“The way our car has been running the last two weeks, and off of what I saw in practice, I feel like we’re in position to hopefully keep (first place) for a very long time in this race, and hopefully close it out,” Keselowski said.
After coming in third in Phoenix, Hamlin clearly knows what he’s doing in the new car, despite his worries about the car’s development. But so does Jimmie Johnson, the four-time Las Vegas champion who followed up his Daytona 500 victory with a second-place finish last week.
“One-one would be dominant,” said Johnson, the only active driver averaging a top-10 finish in Vegas. “One-two is competitive.”
There’s no shortage of star power in Las Vegas. Defending champion Tony Stewart could use a strong effort after a slow start in the first two races, while Danica Patrick will start 37th.
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