Denny Hamlin wins at Las Vegas to advance to the third round of the NASCAR playoffs

·3 min read

Denny Hamlin is 2-for-2 in opening-round playoff races in 2021.

Hamlin followed up his playoff-opening win at Darlington with a win Sunday night at Las Vegas in the first race of the second round. The Darlington win locked him into the second round of the playoffs. Sunday night's win locks him into the third round of the playoffs.

Hamlin led the most laps of any driver and dominated the third stage. He led before his final pit stop of the race and reassumed the lead after pit stops cycled through. With no cautions in the final stage, Hamlin was able to hold off a late charge by Chase Elliott over the final three laps.

Kyle Busch finished third and Martin Truex Jr. was fourth as Joe Gibbs Racing had three cars finish in the top four. Tyler Reddick finished fifth after he was second to Hamlin before the final set of pit stops. Reddick ran longer than Hamlin before his final pit stop and that hurt his chances for a win.

Hamlin doesn't have to sweat Talladega

Since the win locks Hamlin into the third round of the playoffs he doesn't have to sweat a crash at either Talladega or the Charlotte Roval in the next two weeks.

"I'm so happy not to worry about the next two weeks," Hamlin said after the race.

Winning at Vegas is one of the most important playoff victories a Cup Series driver can get. Talladega will undoubtedly include a big crash or two and the roval has been an unpredictable ball of chaos ever since it was introduced on the NASCAR schedule.

Hamlin tied Kevin Harvick for the most wins in the Cup Series in 2020 at nine. Both he and Harvick entered the 2021 playoffs with no wins. While Harvick hasn't won a race so far this year, Hamlin has gotten his first two wins of the season at opportune times.

Hendrick's strategy goes sour

Hendrick Motorsports was banking on a caution in the second stage that never happened.

The only non-stage caution of the race came on lap 91 when the left rear wheel of Joey Gase’s car detached and he slammed into the wall. Gase was transported to a local hospital for evaluation after the crash.

Hamlin and others pitted for fuel during that caution. Hendrick drivers Elliott, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron didn’t. And that move didn’t pay off.

With no caution coming before the end of the stage the teams had to pit for fuel. Elliott was able to put himself back on the lead lap before the end of the stage but the other three drivers didn’t get the track position back that they gained by not pitting earlier.

That ultimately hindered the team’s chances of a win. Larson led 96 laps and barely snuck into the top 10. Byron was 18th after a flat tire in the final stage while Bowman finished 22nd.

Points standings

1. Denny Hamlin (Win at Vegas)

2. Kyle Larson (57 points above 9th)

3. Kyle Busch (35)

4. Martin Truex Jr. (31)

5. Ryan Blaney (24)

6. Chase Elliott (22)

7. Joey Logano (6)

8. Brad Keselowski (4)

9. William Byron

10. Kevin Harvick (-7)

11. Alex Bowman (-13)

12. Christopher Bell (-25)

Race results

1. Denny Hamlin

2. Chase Elliott

3. Kyle Busch

4. Martin Truex Jr.

5. Ryan Blaney

6. Tyler Reddick

7. Brad Keselowski

8. Kurt Busch

9. Kevin Harvick

10. Kyle Larson

11. Joey Logano

12. Matt DiBenedetto

13. Austin Dillon

14. Chase Briscoe

15. Daniel Suarez

16. Bubba Wallace

17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

18. William Byron

19. Aric Almirola

20. Ryan Newman

21. Michael McDowell

22. Alex Bowman

23. Ross Chastain

24. Christopher Bell

25. Chris Buescher

26. Erk Jones

27. Anthony Alfredo

28. Ryan Preece

29. Cole Custer

30. Corey LaJoie

31. Cody Ware

32. Justin Haley

33. BJ McLeod

34. Quin Houff

35. Garrett Smithley

36. Josh Bilicki

37. Joey Gase

38. JJ Yeley