(MRN.com) 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 NASCAR Playoffs.
The 40-year-old Virginian edged reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott by 0.442 seconds. 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’s JGR teammates, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. finished third and fourth, respectively, with Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five – all playoff drivers.
Tyler Reddick, who just missed advancing to this three-race Round of 12 by a mere two points last week, finished sixth after running among the top three for much of the late-race laps.
Penske’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 eligible for the championship.
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