For the first 26 weeks of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, a big question was whether Denny Hamlin would win a race this season.
That question has been replaced by two others. How many races will the Joe Gibbs Racing driver win this year? And is he now the favorite to win his first championship?
Hamlin got his second victory of 2021 on Sunday night when he won the South Point 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Vegas. It feels so good to win in Vegas,” said Hamlin, whose average finish at the track prior to Sunday was 12.9.
The victory, which comes three weeks after he got his first win — at Darlington — gives Hamlin an automatic berth in the Playoffs’ Round of 8, which begins in three weeks at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’m so happy, so happy not to have to worry about the next two weeks,” Hamlin said. “I’m a professional so I’m going to work just as hard each and every week to win.”
Hamlin, who won seven times in 2020, led a race-best 137 laps. It was his first career victory at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval.
Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports finished second, .442 seconds behind Hamlin.
“We were really close but not quite close enough,” said Elliott, which saw him give Hamlin something to think about over the final five laps. “I think he did a good job controlling the gap to me. He was having a hard time with the 21 (Matt DiBenedetto) and I think he was doing a good job of giving himself enough room for him to be able to work the lanes. But super close.”
Hamlin’s teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr., finished third and fourth.
“We got all we could,” said Busch, driving in his hometown. “I felt like during the day time we were a little bit better than the 11 (Hamlin).”
Finishing fifth was Ryan Blaney of Team Penske.
Among other Playoffs drivers, Brad Keselowski was seventh, Kevin Harvick was ninth and Kyle Larson, who led 96 laps, was 10th.
Having tough Sundays among Playoffs drivers were Christopher Bell of the Gibbs team and Hendrick drivers William Byron and Alex Bowman. Bell suffered front end damage during an early pit stop while Byron and Bowman both suffered cut tires late in the race. All three finished off the lead lap.
The second of three races in the Round of 12 will be held at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. The round concludes in two weeks with a race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road course.
Playoffs drivers Truex and Byron were forced to the rear of the field for the start after failing pre-race inspections. By Lap 51, both had driven back into the top 10.
Also sent to the rear for inspection failures were non-Playoffs drivers Aric Almirola and JJ Yeley.
– Field Level Media