Denny Hamlin opens Round of 12 with South Point 400 win

After going 0-for-26 in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Denny Hamlin is 2-for-2 in 2021 playoff round openers. After winning the first race in the Round of 16 at Darlington three rounds prior, he dominated the Round of 12 kickoff at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as he led 137 of 267 laps en route to his maiden win at the track.

Kyle Larson, who won last week at Bristol, was on the pole but second-place starter Ryan Blaney had the early advantage to lead seven laps before Hamlin did so until the lap 26 competition caution. Although Hamlin continued to lead on the restart, Larson was in front by lap 45 and held it to the end of the segment. Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Blaney, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick, Matt DiBenedetto, and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top ten. All but Reddick and DiBenedetto were in playoff contention, and Byron and Truex had started the night at the rear for multiple pre-race inspection failures (as did Aric Almirola and J.J. Yeley).

Five circuits into Stage #2 on lap 93, Joey Gase would be involved in the race’s lone wreck in major fashion when his left-rear wheel came off in turn two and caused him to spin and slam into the outside wall, briefly sending his car airbourne. The crash resulted in hospitalisation for further evaluation. Neither the team nor NASCAR have provided updates at the time of this article’s publishing.

Larson led on the restart and dominated the rest of the stage. However, he was among those who pitted under green shortly before the segment’s conclusion and cycled the lead to Reddick and Hamlin. The latter would take the stage win ahead of Busch, Reddick, Truex, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Harvick, Austin Dillon, and Bubba Wallace.

The 101-lap Stage #3 ran completely green. Hamlin led before the next green-flag pit cycle opened on lap 210, which rotated the top spot to Reddick, Keselowski, and Dillon. Dillon led the most of the trio with seven laps, his highest lap-led count of the season and a personal best at Las Vegas (beating his two in 2016), before relinquishing first back to Hamlin on lap 229.

Although Elliott tried to chase down Hamlin, he was too far away as he drove off to his second win of the year, forty-sixth of his career, and first at Vegas. The win locks him into the Round of 8.

“My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) would say I missed out on two more wins in the first round,” Hamlin commented in his post-race press conference. “We should have won all of them. I can’t disagree, we probably should have won every race so far in the playoffs. I guess I heard out there we led a third of all the laps so far in the playoffs. We’re good.

“We knew that this is what we’re capable of—really, we’ve shown this all year long. It shows in laps led, top fives, top tens. For whatever reason, whether it be bad luck, mistakes on our own, we haven’t got all the bunches of wins that we’ve had in the past.

“Hopefully, this is the start of a really good run.”

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 6 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
2 11 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
3 10 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
4 4 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
5 2 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 267 Running
6 13 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
7 8 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford 267 Running
8 20 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
9 5 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 267 Running
10 1 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
11 9 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 267 Running
12 14 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford 267 Running
13 15 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 266 Running
14 19 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 266 Running
15 26 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 266 Running
16 21 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 266 Running
17 22 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 266 Running
18 3 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 266 Running
19 17 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 266 Running
20 29 6 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford 266 Running
21 23 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 266 Running
22 7 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 265 Running
23 18 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 265 Running
24 12 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 265 Running
25 25 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford 265 Running
26 16 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet 265 Running
27 32 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford 265 Running
28 24 37 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 265 Running
29 28 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 265 Running
30 27 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 264 Running
31 35 51 Cody Ware* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 260 Running
32 33 77 Justin Haley* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 260 Running
33 34 78 B.J. McLeod* Live Fast Motorsports Ford 257 Running
34 36 00 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet 255 Running
35 30 53 Garrett Smithley* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 254 Running
36 31 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford 252 Running
37 37 15 Joey Gase* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 84 Accident
38 38 66 J.J. Yeley MBM Motorsports Toyota 76 Handling
Bold – Currently in playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points

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