The final restart was the difference for Denny Hamlin.
A day earlier than planned—the result of a devastating weather forecast for the Los Angeles area—Hamlin got the jump he needed on an overtime restart and won Saturday night’s third edition of the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.
Smoking his tires in every corner after grabbing the lead on a restart on Lap 141 of a scheduled 150, Hamlin was a few yards away from the finish line when his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Ty Gibbs, spun off the bumper of Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet to bring out the seventh caution and force a two-lap overtime.
In a two-lap shootout for the win, Hamlin stayed clear of runner-up Kyle Busch and crossed the stripe with a 0.610-second advantage, earning his fourth victory in the season-opening exhibition race—most among active drivers—with the first three coming at Daytona International Speedway.
Given the prediction of heavy rain and possible flooding from Sunday through Tuesday, NASCAR made the unprecedented and provident call to move the start of the race from 8 p.m. ET on Sunday to the same time on Saturday.
The decision allowed the NASCAR Cup Series competitors to complete the event without extreme disruption to the schedule.
“I got a really good run off Turn 2 and just got position and was able to hang on from there,” Hamlin said of his run to the lead after the Lap 141 restart. “It’s so chaotic on the restarts, with everyone bumping and banging, but it’s great to win here in L.A.
“It’s just a great momentum boost. It doesn’t do much more than that, but I clean off all the trophies every January 1 in the entryway to the house, and now we get to add one pretty quick, so I’m really happy about that.”
Busch restarted behind Hamlin in the overtime, but Hamlin pulled away to a lead of nearly two car-lengths, and Busch couldn’t get to his bumper after that.
“I felt like the first half (of the race), I had a better car, better than the 11 (Hamlin), but some of the adjustments we made weren’t as good, some of the adjustments they made were better,” said Busch, who has finished second, third and second in the three events at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“All in all, just glad to have a good night. Glad to come out of here in one piece with all the bumping and banging and everything else that happens.”
With a remarkable run from the rear of the field, 2023 Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney finished third after using a provisional just to make the field. Blaney started 23rd and made steady progress throughout the race.
Joey Logano came home fourth, with Kyle Larson claiming the fifth position. Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron completed the top 10.
Hamlin led 58 laps, second only to Gibbs, who was out front for 84 circuits and led by nearly three seconds before catching the back of the field in a green-flag run from Lap 78 to Lap 140. The yellow that ended the run—the result of Michael McDowell’s spin in Turn 3—bunched the field and gave Hamlin a shot at the victory.
Clearly, Hamlin took full advantage.
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