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NASCAR Cup at Las Vegas: Another Playoff win for Denny Hamlin

Las Vegas, NV, Sept 27/21 (by Holly Cain/NASCAR Wire Service): As he crossed the Las Vegas Motor Speedway finish line to claim the South Point 400 trophy, Denny Hamlin screamed into his team radio, “Viva Las Vegas.” And indeed, it was that kind of night for the perennial championship contender, who led a race best 137 of the 267 laps to earn his first Las Vegas victory in 20 starts and take an automatic bid into the next round of the Playoffs.

The 40-year old Virginian edged reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott by 0.442 sec. Elliott cut into Hamlin’s lead on every one of the closing 10 laps, taking full advantage of traffic, but was ultimately unable to catch Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Hamlin had failed to win a single race during the ‘regular season’ but now he has won twice in the first four races of the playoffs.

Hamlin’s JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. finished third and fourth with Penske Racing’s Ryan Blaney rounding out the Top-5 – all Playoff drivers.

Tyler Reddick, who just missed advancing to this three-race Playoff round by a mere two-points last week, finished sixth after running among the Top-3 for much of the late race laps.

Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and regular season champion, Kyle Larson rounded out the Top-10. Keselowski, Harvick and Larson are also championship eligible.

Hamlin led seven different times, won Stage 2 and took the lead for good with 39 laps remaining – facing that challenge from Elliott in the waning laps of a what was a relatively clean race – only one yellow flag outside of the competition caution and two stage breaks.

“It feels so good to win in Vegas, last couple times I’ve been so close but just didn’t have the right breaks, but they got the car great and great to hold those guys off,” said Hamlin, who earned his 46th career victory and becomes the first driver to officially earn a shot into the Playoff Round of 8.

“I’m so happy to not have to worry about the next two weeks, but I am a professional and I will work just as hard each and every week to win.”

Obviously disappointed not to win, Elliott was still enthusiastic about his runner-up finish – his 12th top five of the season – rallying from a pit stop strategy that put him a lap down at one point.

“We were really close, just not quite close enough,” Elliott said. “Denny did a really good job controlling the gap to me and he was having a hard time [lapping] with the 21 (Matt DiBenedetto).

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson certainly looked like the driver to beat early on. He led 95 laps and won his series best 15th Stage win in the opening portion of the night, but a different pit strategy put him a lap down mid-race and he was unable to challenge for the lead again.

The second race in this three-race Round of 12 will be held next Sunday, October 3rd, at the Talladega Superspeedway.

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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