Las Vegas: Denny Hamlin race report

Hamlin Experiences Roller-Coaster Day At Las Vegas; Interstate Batteries Driver Finishes Disappointing 21st After Late-Race Crash Denny Hamlin spun out, recovered to lead seven laps, was penalized twice for speeding on pit road, lost a lap, ...

Hamlin Experiences Roller-Coaster Day At Las Vegas; Interstate Batteries Driver Finishes Disappointing 21st After Late-Race Crash

Denny Hamlin spun out, recovered to lead seven laps, was penalized twice for speeding on pit road, lost a lap, earned the lap back and moved into the top-10 before a late-race accident relegated him to a 21st-place finish in a wild, crash-filled Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hamlin, driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, started fourth and stayed in the top-five for the first seven laps before he spun exiting turn four on lap eight. In a masterful display of driving, the Chesterfield, Va.-native managed to avoid hitting anything and after three pits stops to check his machine, restarted in 36th when the green flag came out again on lap 14.

By lap 37, Hamlin had worked his way back into the top-10 and was poised to again challenge for the race lead.

Crew chief Dave Rogers continued to work on the handling of the Interstate Batteries Toyota throughout the mid-portion of the race, while Hamlin did his best to avoid the 12 accidents which slowed the average speed of the race to just 106.713 mph.

Hamlin took the lead on lap 147 and held onto the point until he made his final scheduled pit stop of the day after the 153rd circuit around the 1.5-mile oval. Unfortunately, NASCAR officials determined that Hamlin was too fast exiting pit road and he was given a pass-through penalty, which meant he had to bring his car through pit lane at the posted speed limit of 45 mph.

After serving his pass-through penalty, NASCAR officials ordered Hamlin back to pit road, as it was determined he was again too fast on exit, whereupon they imposed another drive-through penalty.

Hamlin successfully abided by the 45 mph speed limit on his third trip down pit road and rejoined the race in 15th-place, one lap down.

After working his way up to 11th, Hamlin was the first car one lap down. When a timely caution came out on lap 179, he was awarded the "lucky dog" and allowed to make up his lap.

Amazingly, after his spin and pit road miscues, Hamlin was still in a position to win when the green flag came out on lap 182. For the next several laps he battled side-by-side with Las Vegas-raised Brendan Gaughan for the 10th position before finally passing him for good on lap 195.

With Gaughan successfully behind him, Hamlin attempted to track down the cars ahead of him, and in doing so, brushed the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall in turn two. The contact caused his right-front fender to rub against the right-front tire.

By the time Hamlin was on the frontstretch, the tire rub was so bad that he slowed dramatically entering turn one as his car veered up the racetrack. Mike Bliss was behind Hamlin and had nowhere to go. He plowed into the back of Hamlin's Interstate Batteries Camry, with both cars making hard contact with the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall before coming to rest on the inside of the racetrack.

Hamlin and Bliss, whose cars were heavily damaged and unable to continue, were checked and released without injury from the infield care center.

"I got in the wall trying to drive the car too hard," Hamlin said. "I was racing the 62 (Gaughan) right there for five laps or so, and once I got by him I was trying to make up ground and make up for the mistakes on pit road and just got ourselves in a bad spot.

"I didn't know anyone was even close to us, but we definitely had a tire rub and it went down going into the corner. Mike (Bliss) really had no options of where to go. He didn't know I was going to go all the way across the racetrack. It was really bad timing more than anything."

Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota, finished 39th after being involved in an early accident.

Greg Biffle won the Sam's Town 300 to score his 19th career Nationwide Series victory, his first of the season and his first at Las Vegas. The win also snapped a 76-race winless streak for Biffle in the Nationwide Series dating back to Feb. 25, 2006 at Auto Club Speedway.

Carl Edwards finished .391 of a second behind Biffle, while Brian Vickers, Jason Leffler and Dale Earnhardt Jr., rounded out the top-five. Michael McDowell, Gaughan, Justin Allgaier, Scott Lagasse Jr., and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The race featured 12 caution periods for a race-record 60 laps, with a staggering 18 drivers failing to finish the race, which was extended nine laps beyond the scheduled 200-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.

The Nationwide Series is idle for the next two weeks before racing resumes with the March 21 Scotts Turf Builder 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jason Leffler , Greg Biffle , Michael McDowell , Mike Bliss , Carl Edwards , Scott Lagasse Jr. , Denny Hamlin , Justin Allgaier , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing