Hamlin resists Elliott and takes first NASCAR victory in Vegas | Sports News

By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) – It turns out that 21 was Denny Hamlin’s lucky number in Vegas.

After finally securing his first career victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on his 21st try, Hamlin is on an undeniable streak of success as he could well ride to his coveted debut NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Hamlin finally broke through in Vegas on Sunday night, fending off Chase Elliott and kicking off the second round of the playoffs with his second win in September.

Three weeks after Hamlin claimed his first win of the season in the playoff opener at Darlington, he led 137 laps in Vegas in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, including the last 39.

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After a frustrating season of results and a 17-year career filled with Championship near misses, Hamlin is once again a serious contender for the title. He is just 14 points behind Kyle Larson in the points standings, and he won’t be under any pressure heading into the next high-stakes races at Talladega and Charlotte Roval with his ticket already marked for the third round by this victory at Vegas.

“It’s so good to win in Vegas,” said Hamlin. “The last two times I’ve been close, but just didn’t have the right brakes. It’s great to hold these guys back.

The 41-year-old veteran has struggled on the 1 1/2 mile track for most of his career, only two top-five finishes in his first 18 starts. Since then, he has racked up three consecutive top four in Vegas, capped off by this victory under the lights and fireworks.

“There was a time when I never thought I would even sniff a win here,” Hamlin said. “The team found a setup that worked with my riding style. The team goes to work to give me what I need to go fast.

Elliott moved closer to Hamlin in the final five rounds as Hamlin’s performance appeared to decline, closing the gap to half a second with two laps to go – but the defending Cup Series champion couldn’t close the remaining distance, finishing second in his Motorsport Hendrick Chevrolet.

“We were very close,” Elliott said. “Just not close enough. Denny did a good job controlling the gap with me. I feel like we’ve been playing at a really good level over the past four or five weeks. I just didn’t have the results to show for it. “

Kyle Busch was third on the track in his hometown, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney as the 12 remaining playoff drivers started the second round and the final seven races of the season. Hamlin, Busch and Truex put Joe Gibbs Racing in three of the top four places.

“I can’t think of a better place to win,” said Chris Gabehart, Hamlin crew chief. “It is certain that our team has been very competent throughout the year. Every metric other than the earnings column has been amazing for our team. It really is our best year together so far. You stay ahead as much as us, the victories will finally arrive. They are coming at the right time. “

Larson finished 10th on the track where he won in March. Kevin Harvick, who retired with Elliott on tactics last week at Bristol, was ninth.

Larson won the first stage, but Hamlin won the second when Larson needed gas and stopped with eight laps to go. Larson got stuck in the middle of the field on the final stage as he struggled with his tires.

Harvick wasn’t really able to get Elliott back after the young pilot deliberately slowed Harvick in Bristol last week, ruining his chances of catching Larson. Harvick and Elliott had a vocal public disagreement after this run.

Harvick was still angry in Vegas, calling him “probably the craziest I’ve ever been”.

“It was like talking to a 9-year-old,” Harvick said of his argument with Elliott. “It’s the same. It’s 100% exactly the same scenario. They’re hanging on to one thing and you can’t tell them about the whole job. “

Hamlin made the playoffs 15 times, but came closest to a championship in 2010. He won eight races that year and took a points lead in the season finale at Homestead, for finish second behind Jimmie Johnson with a run to 14th place. to end.

Kyle Busch was strong in his 600th career Cup Series start, and his older brother Kurt was eighth in his 750th career start. Las Vegas natives have been racing this track at the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard since it reopened 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 the hospital after a bad car crash at 92 laps. His left rear tire flew out of the car, sending him high into the outside wall of Turn 2.

Chase Briscoe finished 14th after a long day for a future dad. He arrived in Vegas on a commercial flight about three hours before the race after staying in Charlotte with his wife, who is due to give birth soon. Briscoe almost didn’t make it to Nevada because of a flight cancellation, but American Airlines arrived with a rescue plane just in time.

NEXT: The NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Race Continues In Talladega Next Sunday.

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