Denny Hamlin hasn’t always had much success in the past at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Heading into this weekend’s race, Hamlin had one top five finish in his last seven starts on the 1.5-mile track. His last five finishes were 17th, 32nd, 10th, 15th and 17th respectively.
This was the race that worried him the most for this round. That’s even with Talladega and the ROVAL looming. That’s because he didn’t want to waste his mulligan early.
Now, he knows that he doesn’t.
Hamlin, led a race-high 121 of 268 laps en route to a third place effort in his No. 11 Toyota on Sunday night. It was also his first top 10 finish of the playoffs too and he now sits very comfortable with two races left in the second round.
“If you would have asked me before the day I would have definitely been happy about it, but I just hate missing out on victories to be honest,” Hamlin said. “We’re so much better than the six victories that we’ve got. It’s just disturbing.
“I’ve never been this fast in so many races and just not finishing it like I feel like we should. But if we’re up front, that’s what counts and that’s what’s going to get you to Phoenix is to keep getting stage wins and keep battling for race wins, and you’ll get yourself to Phoenix and hopefully you’ll get a championship out of it. That’s what we’re all here for, and that’s what I’m trying to do.“
This was the momentum back that they needed, especially when people said he was distracted by the efforts of starting a new team.
“No, I mean, I’ve been working for like 10 weeks on stuff, so not just racing stuff but just stuff in general,” said Hamlin. “It doesn’t — we’ve had bad breaks — tonight was just another bad break like Darlington was to be honest with you or Bristol. We led laps tonight. We were obviously I thought the best car, but people look at the results instead of actually paying attention to the race.“
He’s right. In Darlington he was running third heading to his final stop. He got rear ended trying to get to pit lane. He dropped 10 spots as a result. A week later in Richmond, he won a stage but was but with a pit road penalty.
The speed has been there. The luck hasn’t. That’s why I’ve always maintained that we can’t sleep on Hamlin still.