The NASCAR Cup Series drivers kicked off the Round of 12 on Sunday, Sept. 26, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing continued a dominant run as Denny Hamlin locked up his second win of the playoffs, his first at the Sin City track.
Prior to the playoff race, Hamlin had made 19 starts at Las Vegas without a win. He had four top-five finishes and nine total top-10s. His best finishes prior to the win on Sept. 26 were a pair of third-place runs, one in 2007 and one in 2020.
The driver of the No. 11 JGR Toyota Camry continued his dominant playoff run that began at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 5. He won Stage 2 and then showcased his speed during the final stage. Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott made a late run and came within a few car lengths of chasing Hamlin down, but he could not achieve his goal. The defending Cup Series champion settled for second place while Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-five.
With this win, Hamlin can now simply look forward to the third round of the Cup Series playoffs. He will obviously try to win at Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Roval, but he will not have to worry about stacking points or doing damage control if the No. 11 Toyota becomes involved in a crash.
While Hamlin secured his spot in the Round of Eight, he also added to his considerable list of achievements. He secured the 46th win of his career, moving him into a tie with Buck Baker for 17th on the all-time Cup Series wins list. Now he sits two wins behind Herb Thomas (48) and three behind Tony Stewart (49).
Mistakes Continued To Plague Playoff Drivers at Las Vegas
The first round of the Cup Series playoffs featured several mistakes by top drivers, as well as considerable amounts of bad luck. Kurt Busch crashed at Richmond early after a flat tire while William Byron and Alex Bowman collided at Darlington and suffered damage.
The issues continued early at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Christopher Bell was the first to suffer damage to his stock car as he collided with the rear of Busch’s Chevrolet on pit road. He had to head down pit road for a second time and fell a lap behind the other drivers.
The issues continued with Joey Logano having loose lugnuts, forcing him down pit road for a second time. Though he recovered and moved back into the top 15 during the final stage. Bowman and Byron also fell at least a lap down after tire issues of their own.
Bowman had a fast car at Las Vegas, but a flat tire dropped him two laps behind the pack. He suffered a puncture after a pit stop and had to head back down pit road for a new tire. He spent the remainder of the race trying to do damage control.
Byron, on the other hand, had two issues involving his tires. The first took place late in Stage 2. He headed down pit road for four tires and fuel, but the right side took too long. He had to depart his pit box after only getting two tires and falling behind Hamlin.
The issues continued in the final stage. He suddenly headed to pit road while telling his crew that he had a flat right rear tire. This extra stop kept him a lap behind the leaders and ensured that he will head to Talladega Superspeedway in need of points.
A Frightening Wreck Sent One Driver to the Hospital for Evaluation
Playoff drivers became the focus during the playoff race, but one ineligible for the championship battle sparked concern. Joey Gase, the driver of the No. 15 for Rick Ware Racing, went to the hospital for further evaluation after a frightening single-car crash.
The incident occurred on Lap 92. Gase spun after the left rear tire came off of the No. 15. He slammed into the outside wall at full speed, launching the stock car into the air. The destroyed vehicle slid down the track and collided with the inside wall as the safety crew rushed to check on Gase.
Rick Ware Racing provided an update on Twitter, simply revealing that Gase went to the hospital for further evaluation. The team said it would provide further updates as they become available. Though FOX Sports reporter Bob Pockrass noted that Gase walked to the ambulance under his own power after the hard hit.