With less than 40 laps to go Hamlin had to go to the rear for an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop under caution.
It took the No. 18 car just over 30 laps to get up to third after restarting 14th.
Then a caution flew with under two laps to go and changed the entire outcome of the 300-mile race.
Hamlin's JGR teammate and pole-sitter Erik Jones brought out a caution when he cut down a right front tire, pounding the outside wall. The No. 18 team decided to come down and put four tires on their machine, while the two race leaders stayed out.
On the green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin grabbed the lead coming to the white flag where he wouldn't look back en route to JGR's seventh win of the season in the series.
"It was a second opportunity," Hamlin said of his victory. "I was hoping for that caution there and the end and we got it. We were able to get four tires and took off. It was a little closer than I thought, we were just really right in those last couple of laps."
Austin Dillon was the first off pit road taking just two tires after the final caution. He gained one position in the final two laps, finishing in the runner-up position.
After leading 58 laps and being one of two drivers to stay out under the late race caution, Joey Logano came home third. This is his second top-five finish in five races this season in the No. 22 car, which is still looking for its first victory as a team.
"We had a car that was capable of winning if circumstances were right," Logano said of his third-place effort. "I thought I was going to have a good restart next to [Kyle] and I thought if we cleared him, like we did, we would have a shot. It was just really hard to hold off those four tires."
In his second career start Cole Custer came home with a fourth-place finish. His JR Motorsports teammate, Justin Allgaier rounded out the top five.
Kyle Larson made a bold move in Turn 3 of the final lap going for the win, but came up short and hit the outside wall. It cost him dearly as he finished sixth after leading 46 laps.
Larson was the leader of the race when the final caution flag flew and the No. 42 team decided to stay out. Going into the final set of corners he had a shot at the victory, but came up short of his third career XFINITY Series triumph.
"I didn't get a great take-off and Joey [Logano] got around me and was sucking on my door," Larson said of the final restart. "Denny [Hamlin] gave me a shot and i was surprised at how much grip I had. It's pretty hard to beat four tires."
Rookie Brandon Jones finish seventh, with RCR teammate Ty Dillon eighth, Brennan Poole ninth and Brendan Gaughan rounded out the top 10.
There were eight cautions in the race for 54 laps. In the two races combined at Charlotte in 2015, there were just six cautions total in 600 miles of competition.
On Lap 25, a caution flew and took out three of the first six drivers in the running order after they slid through some oil on the track in Turn 3.
It started when pole-sitter, Jones was making a move on race leader Hamlin, but slid in the oil and made contact with the wall. From there his JGR teammate, Daniel Suarez slid and had his car saved until coming back up the track into the wall where he was met by Elliott Sadler. All three drivers went at least one lap down
Suarez rebounded to finish 12th, while Sadler came home 28th and Jones 31st.
Next weekend, the XFINITY Series will tackle Pocono Raceway for the first time in series history.
Austin Dillon is the defending race winner and he is hoping for a repeat in the No. 2 Rheem Chevrolet. If that would happen, Dillon would become the first driver to win back‐to‐back series races at Las Vegas. The double‐duty driver for Richard Childress Racing led 183 laps in 2015's race to capture the victory. Dillon has three starts, one win, three top‐10's and an average finish of 4.7 at the intermediate track north of the strip.
Along with Dillon, there are four other drivers running both Saturday's and Sunday's races. One of them is Kyle Busch in the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota. The Vegas native is coming off a win in Atlanta a week ago, which marked his 77th victory in the series. On his home turf, Busch has made 11 starts, earned three top fives and an 18.2 average finish.
Ones to Watch
While it's possible this race could be dominated by cup regulars, let's take a look at the Xfinity favorites and contenders:
‐ Elliott Sadler is the current points leader, three points over Daniel Suarez. It's early in the season but, according to loop data, the No. 1 One Main Chevrolet driver is seventh in average running position with 8.5. and has a eighth‐place driver rating of 97.6. Sadler has nine starts at Vegas with an average finish of 12.3.
‐ Daniel Suarez is currently ranked second in the standings behind Sadler. The No. 19 ARRIS Toyota driver has only one start at Vegas in which he finished 10th.
‐ Erik Jones is the leading rookie in the bunch. The reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion started third and led seven laps before getting into an accident in last year's Vegas Xfinity race. Jones will be looking for better results when he straps into the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota.
‐ After taking flight with the US Thunderbirds at neaby Nellis Air Force Base, 22‐year‐old Ryan Reed will make his 75th Xfinity start in the No. 6 Lilly Diabetes/American Diabetes Association Ford Mustang. The Roush‐Fenway driver has been able to not only promote awareness for diabetes but beat the odds of the disease himself.
‐ Brendan Gaughan is another hometown favorite that must not be forgotten. The No. 62 South Point Chevy driver returns to his home track ranked sixth in the Xfinity standings. He's made five previous starts and earned one top five as well as three top‐10 finishes in his own backyard.
Qualifying will begin Saturday morning at 9:45 AM PT (track time), 12:45 PM ET and can be seen on FS2. Then you will want to return to the couch for the main event, which will kick off at 1:00 PM PT, 4:00 PM ET on FS1, PRN and Sirius XM Channel 90.
It had been since Oct. 11, 2003. It had been 294 starts across NASCAR’s top-three divisions. However, after more than 10 years of heart break, Brendan Gaughan finally got what he deserved – a win.
Gaughan, whose family owns the South Point casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, has been racing in NASCAR’s top-three divisions since he was 21-years-old. Now, 39, Gaughan ended up in the winner’s circle at Road America last weekend.
In an emotional victory, Gaughan expressed his sincere gratitude for those that have stuck by his side since that 2003 win at Texas. Since that time, he has bounced around from team to team. He ran one full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2004, but that didn’t work out. He bounced around the Truck Series, yet after a long journey – Gaughan’s dedication has paid off.
After interviewing him last November, I learned more about Gaughan than I ever thought. Not only did he explain why he still wants to race, but he explained why he wants to end his career with Richard Childress Racing.
“I’m just thankful. I don’t questions why’s or how’s, I just know that I appreciate what Richard has given me. My performance on the track this year (and last year) has at least proven that I can be up front every week and I can go win races in this series and that series (Nationwide). That’s what I’m thankful for. If I can’t win races, I don’t want to be here. We should have won two or three this year, and we will win one. We will go out there and win races next year,” Gaughan told me in our interview.
He had doubts. Why wouldn’t he? When a driver goes through a 10 year win-less streak, they question themselves. However, Gaughan worked through the pain. He did more than beat his competitors on that rainy day at Road America. That day, Gaughan was on top, and all of his doubts went away.
When we spoke on that day in November, Gaughan admitted that he wants to continue to race. He joked about how even though he hadn’t won in 10 years, he was always competing for wins – and that was true. Whether it was in a Nationwide Series car, a truck or in the Cup Series, Gaughan didn’t go a full season without recording a top-five finish. Although he wasn’t always the most competitive driver due to the equipment he was in, Gaughan has always been able to get the most out of his vehicles.
“As soon as it’s proven to me at RCR that I can’t win races, I’m done. Until then, we’re going to keep on driving. It takes a lot to make the series work. I respect the guys that race their heart out and work hard on their race cars day-in and day-out when some days they race and some they park for money,” he said about the possibility of retiring. “I respect them a lot, and it’s hard work doing that. It’s not that they’re any less of a driver or not, they just don’t have the opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity, and if I can’t win, I’ll just go ride off in the sunset.”
Joining RCR has been the blessing he has been looking for. Gaughan dedicated the win to his grandfather, Jackie Gaughan, who passed away at the age of 93 in March – adding to the emotions which were spinning through his head. The father of two boys, he even raced part-time in order to have a better opportunity to raise them – similar to what Sam Hornish Jr. did several years ago and is doing now.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve got a win and it’s been documented greatly by many, many places. It’s one of those things where I always said when I got back to victory lane, I understood the difference between when I was 28-years-old and when I’m 38-years-old, but I appreciate it very much, I appreciate all the words and all the support that fans, friends, people you didn’t know were friends, people that hated you,” he said after his win. “All the kind words have been really over whelming, I’ve taken it all in and appreciate every bit of it. I think the best congratulations I got [though] was from my father [Michael] who reminded me that ‘even a blind squirrel finds a nut some days.”
For a driver with his amazing personality, a victory is nothing shy of bitter sweet.