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.”
|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|
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points