When the sun was shining at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday it was shining on the drivers of Hendrick Motorsports drivers, at least for the first 100 laps of the NASCAR Cup series South Point 400.
By virtue of his win at Bristol the week before Kyle Larson led Sunday’s race from the pole leading 95 laps and winning Stage 1 which ended on lap 60.
In fact, at one point all four Hendrick cars held the top four spots, including William Byron who had to start at the rear of the field after twice failing pre-race inspection.
It all changed however when Joey Gase suffered a hard hit on lap 93 after losing a left rear wheel. It would be the races only caution for an incident on the track, and Gase who was walking, was later taken to a local hospital for a precautionary check. During the caution the Hendrick drivers stayed out while Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Truex were among those pitting.
This led to the Hendrick cars pitting under green later during Stage 2 and left them deep in the field. Eventual race winner Denny Hamlin would win Stage 2 which ended at lap 160 while all four Hendrick cars finished the stage outside top 10.
The race would run green in the final stage and Hamlin would pit for the final time under green on lap 215. Larson would follow as would Hendrick driver Alex Bowman and Byron. Bowman would have to re-pit shortly after with a flat tire due to broken valve stem; Byron would also get a flat tire and had to pit on lap 225 while running in the top five
That left it to Elliott to carry the Hendrick banner, he finished second.
“We were really close, just not quite close enough,” Elliott said. “Denny did a good job of controlling the gap to me. He was having a hard time with the 21. I think he was doing a good job of giving himself enough room to him to be able to work the lanes, kind of control the gap back to me.”
Elliott wasn’t sure why his was the lone Hendrick car able to run back up to the front and contend for the win.
“Obviously circumstances kind of went our way,” he said. “We were able to get back on the lead lap when that cycle stopped. We were there in the middle with those guys making it on fuel. We were on the fortunate end because we got back on the lead lap, didn’t have to wave or get the Lucky Dog.
“We just kept tuning on it, felt like we really needed a little track position.”
Byron was scored 18th one lap down, Bowman 22nd two laps down; Larson rallied but could only manage to finish 10th.
“We stayed out and had to do the wave around,” Larson said. “I wasn’t on fresh tires and stuck in traffic. Everyone is fighting so hard back there to run their race that I just got kind of stuck. Not beat around, but just stuck and having to race. It’s just hard.
“We were able to fight back for a top-10 and come away with an OK finish.”
Larson said his issues stemmed from having to deal with slower traffic when he got deep in the field.
“(Ryan) Blaney got through there better,” Larson said. Blaney finished fifth. “I got stuck around the No. 42 (Ross Chastain), so he was able to get clear and get away and have a good finish. Just being on older tires and having to battle through all of them was difficult. You forget how hard everybody races back there; it’s pretty wild. There were moments where I thought I was going to end up crashed or get frustrated and run myself into the wall. But we were able to mentally fight through it and come away with a top-10.”
With all his success this season however, Larson has a 57-point cushion as the series heads into the unpredictable superspeedway race at Talladega.
“Yeah, it’s good that I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me and make my day even worse,” he said. “It’s good to go to Talladega (Superspeedway) and be that far up. I would have liked to have been up more. I feel like we gave up at least 15 points today with the second stage. That’s a bummer, but we’ll fight through it and hopefully avoid issues at Talladega.”