LAS VEGAS (AP) – Denny Hamlin took his first career win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday night, holding off Chase Elliott and kicking off the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with his second win in September.
Hamlin took his first win of the season at the playoff opener in Darlington three weeks ago in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. A groundbreaking victory in Vegas proves that Hamlin is a serious contender for his first championship in the Cup series after a 17-year career full of near-misses.
Hamlin cracked his ticket to the third round of the Las Vegas playoffs with authority: the 41-year-old veteran has struggled on this track for most of his career, but has achieved three consecutive top-4 finishes in Vegas, crowned by this victory under lights and fireworks.
“It feels so good to win in Vegas,” said Hamlin. âI’ve been close the last couple of times, but I just didn’t have the right brakes. It’s great to stop these guys. “
Elliott joined Hamlin for the final five laps when Hamlin’s performance seemed to be weakening, narrowing the gap to half a second with two laps to go – but the Cup Series defending champion failed to fill the remaining gap and finished second in his Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet .
Kyle Busch finished third on his home track, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney as the 12 remaining playoff drivers began the second lap and the final seven races of the season. Hamlin, Busch and Truex put Joe Gibbs Racing in three of the top four places.
League leader Kyle Larson finished 10th on the track where he won in March. Kevin Harvick, who argued with Elliott over tactics in Bristol last week, finished ninth.
Larson won the first stage, but Hamlin took the second when Larson needed gas and pitted with eight laps to go. Larson got stuck in midfield in the closing stages while struggling with his tires.
Hamlin has made the playoffs 15 times, but in 2010 he was closest to a championship. He won eight races that year and went into the season finale at Homestead by one point, only to finish second behind Jimmie Johnson in 14th place.
Kyle Busch was strong in his 600th career start in the Cup series, and older brother Kurt finished eighth in his 750th career start.
Native to Las Vegas, this route has been driving this north end of Las Vegas Boulevard since it opened as a 1 1/2 mile oval in 1996.
Only Richard Petty made 600 starts at a younger age than Kyle Busch in NASCAR history.
Joey Gase went to hospital in 92 laps after a major car accident. His left rear tire flew off the car and threw him up into the outer wall at Turn 2.
Chase Briscoe turned 14 after a long day for a soon-to-be father. He arrived in Vegas on a commercial flight about three hours before the race after staying in Charlotte with his soon-to-be-born wife. Briscoe almost didn’t make it to Nevada because of a flight cancellation, but American Airlines got through with a replacement plane just in time.
UP NEXT: The NASCAR Cup Series playoff race continues next Sunday in Talladega.