By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
With a slew of cautions in the final 20 laps of Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, opportunity was shaping up for Denny Hamlin, the race’s dominator.
Chasing Alex Bowman following a green-flag pit stop with 32 laps to go, an untimely caution put the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver one lap down. A wavearound put Hamlin back on the lead lap and ready to fight back to the race lead from outside the top 10.
“Just the same thing as Darlington; An untimely caution,” Hamlin said. “It’s what is keeping us out of Victory Lane.”
Still, with two fresh tires, two more yellows and two laps to go, Hamlin lined into fourth position for one last shot to win. Choosing the outside lane on the choose rule, Hamlin would eventually line up sixth.
Jumping past Bowman and Ryan Blaney, Hamlin ran side-by-side with Matt DiBenedetto for second place, allowing Kurt Busch to skip away with the victory. Hamlin settled for third.
“It’s tough to try and figure out where to be. My car is fast on the bottom, I’m faster than everyone but if the train gets going on the top, you can’t overcome it.
.@KurtBusch gets away with the lead, but it's chaos behind him!
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 28, 2020
“I was really happy with the push I got. I don’t know [if] I would have done a different move or not, we just drove to the bottom to get beside the No. 21 [DiBenedetto] but nobody was on the bottom to help us push. That’s all she wrote.
Leading 121 of 268 laps Sunday, Hamlin had one of his best 1.5-mile cars of 2020 and was disappointed not to hold his seventh winning trophy of the season.
“We obviously had the dominant car here today, I’m proud of the whole FedEx team for giving me such a great car,” he said. “By far the best car I have had at Las Vegas and maybe in a long time on a mile-and-a-half. Really encouraged by the way we ran. Obviously, very disappointed we didn’t get a win. It’s just the way the playoffs have gone — whoever just stays out the longest, they put themselves in a great spot to win.
“We definitely had a great day. Something I’m really happy about is just how we ran, how fast we were. To restart 13th with just a few laps [run], then the top got shuffled and we made ground on the bottom. Any one of the cautions don’t happen and we’re still in great shape.
“It took like seven laps to get a piece of debris off [the track], then we had the debris right on a fuel window. I don’t know… just really unfortunate circumstances for our FedEx team that is keeping us out of Victory Lane.”
Stacking up stage points to join his third-place finish, Hamlin will enter next week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway — Race No. 2 of the Round of 12 in the playoffs — sitting 58 points above the cutline.