Denny Hamlin opened the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 with a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday night.
Hamlin started Sunday’s race in sixth, right behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.
Hamlin showed speed early on in the day, leading 34 laps and finishing third in the opening stage, which was won by Spring race winner Kyle Larson.
Hamlin led the first five laps of stage two as well, before losing the lead to Larson and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Willaim Byron and Chase Elliott on Lap 88. Byron and Larson would battle for the lead with Hamlin prowling closely behind, and finally getting back to the lead on Lap 153 after his jostle with the Hendrick Chevrolets.
Hamlin led the remaining laps in the stage en route to his tenth stage win of 2021.
Picking up where he left off in stage two, Hamlin remained a front runner throughout the final stage, cycling back to the lead after a stint of green flag pit stops to ensure all drivers had enough fuel and fresh enough tires to make it to the end of the race.
Hamlin cycled back to the lead at Lap 229, and checked out to win his second race of the season.
The race had a total of four cautions for 21 laps, with the only caution coming from a non-scheduled yellow flag being Joey Gase wrecking in turns one and two.
Gase’s No. 15 Chevrolet had the right rear wheel come completely off the car, sending him into a spin and a hard hit into the outside wall. Gase’s car went airborne and slid back down to the apron where it came to rest. Gase got out of his car under his own power, however he was later transported to a local medical facility for further evaluation.
Las Vegas native’s Kurt and Kyle Busch finished third and eight in their return home. Kyle, the only current playoff driver between the two, now sits equal to his race result; third in the points standings.
“I felt like we had a better car when the sun was out, but when the lights turned on is when we got ran into the wall twice off of [turn] two,” Kyle said. “We maximized a good race car… [I] certainly wish we got a win to not worry about the next few races.”
Second place finisher and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott came ever so close to winning, even though he led only one lap.
“Super close… I felt like we’ve been performing at a really nice level the last three or four weeks,” Elliott told NASCAR on NBC. “But [we] just haven’t had great results to show for it.”
Elliott’s second place finish puts him in 6th in the points standings, 12 points ahead of eighth place Keselowski and 22 points to the good to advance to the next round of the playoffs, barring any incidents at Talladega next week or at Charlotte Oct. 10.
Hamlin scored his first career victory at Las Vegas to push him through to the next round of the playoffs, and he feels as though he finally had a change of luck at the track.
“There was a point where I never thought I’d sniff a victory here,” Hamlin said post-race. “The team found a setup that has worked with my driving style. The team gives me what I need to go fast.”
Tune in Sunday Oct. 10 at 11 a.m. PST for the Yellawood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on NBC.