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What hangover? Daytona 500 champions usually fare well in next race

Auto Club 500

FONTANA, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Matt Kenseth (L), driver of the #17 Carhartt Ford, and track president Gillian Zucker (R), celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway on February 22, 2009 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Getty Images for NASCAR

This week Denny Hamlin is a busy man.

The Daytona 500 champion is in the middle of a marathon of at least 15 media appearances on TV and radio with social media hijinks sprinkled in.

Eventually, the victory lap will come to an end. That will be Friday when Hamlin hits the track to prepare for the next race, Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But don’t go thinking Hamlin will be slow on the uptake once he returns to the track, even if he did only have one hour of sleep between the time he won the Daytona 500 and his appearance on NASCAR America around 6 p.m. the next day.

According to recent history, the Daytona 500 champion has not been slowed down in the race immediately following the season opener.

In the last seven years, the Daytona 500 winner has finished in the top five four times. That’s as the second race of the year transitioned between three different tracks: Auto Club Speedway (2005 - 2010), Phoenix International Raceway (2011 - 2014) and now Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Last season, Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano earned the pole at Atlanta, led 84 laps and finished fourth.

After earning his second Daytona 500 win in 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to Phoenix and finished second after starting 15th. Though he didn’t lead any laps, it was his third top-five finish in a row at the track

In 2013, Jimmie Johnson also won his second 500 and followed it up by starting third in Phoenix and finishing second with one lap led.

One of the few exceptions in recent years was Matt Kenseth in 2012. Kenseth answered his second Daytona 500 win by starting 26th at PIR and finishing 13th. Though he has one win in Phoenix (2002), the 1-mile track is Kenseth’s fourth worst in terms of average finish (16.6).

But it is Kenseth who can claim to be the last driver to win the first two races of a Sprint Cup season. In 2009, Kenseth won Daytona then took the party to the West Coast and won at Auto Club Speedway after starting 24th and leading 84 laps.

Before him, Jeff Gordon was the last to accomplish the feat in 1997 (Daytona, Rockingham).

Prior to Logano’s victory in 2015, the previous first-time winner in the Daytona 500 was Trevor Bayne in 2011. A week later, Bayne wrecked out of the Phoenix race on Lap 49 in a single-car accident. He finished 40th.

And like Logano last year, Jamie McMurray answered his 500 win in 2010 by earning the pole in Fontana. But the No. 1 car failed to lead a lap and finished 17th.

What can be expected from Hamlin at Atlanta?

In 16 races on the 1.54-mile track, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has an average finish of 18.1 with one win (2012) and one pole (2010). He has three top-five and six top-10 finishes. His 2015 visit ended in 38th after the No. 11 was involved in a four-car crash on Lap 257.

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