Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs to be more active about policing drivers

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PLANO, Texas — Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs to tell drivers that there will be a “huge penalty” for intentionally causing a caution after spins the past two weeks in Cup playoff races raised questions about such tactics.

Kyle Larson and his team were upset with Bubba Wallace on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway after Wallace had a flat tire and spun. Larson said “Helen Keller could have seen” that Wallace’s spin was intentional and that such actions will continue until NASCAR penalizes drivers. Richard Petty Motorsports tweeted a picture of the flat left rear tire.

Wallace’s spin came during the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Larson’s team was among those that had pitted and caught a lap down. While Larson took the wave around, he could not make up the lost track position in the final 90 laps and finished 12th. He trails Joey Logano by 23 points for the final transfer spot to the championship race heading into the season’s penultimate race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Hamlin has no doubt that Wallace’s act was intentional but doesn’t blame the driver for doing so.

“Bubba’s (spin) this weekend was pretty obvious and obviously it hurt some people and helped others,” Hamlin said Monday morning at Toyota Motor North America Headquarters. “He’s just following in everyone else’s footsteps. It’s been going on for a long time. Especially this time of the season, it can potentially change a lot of things in the playoffs that it shouldn’t.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Sunday that series officials reviewed Wallace’s spin and determined that it did not warrant a penalty.

Hamlin said officials should make it clear to competitors how significant the penalty for intentionally causing a caution could be.

“At least they need to set out if you do it, then there is going to be a huge penalty,” said Hamlin, who was penalized two laps for stopping on the track to cause a caution in the May 2008 Cup race at Richmond. “At least that will deter you. It won’t stop it, but it will deter you if you know you’re going to get a two-lap, three-lap penalty for intentionally causing a caution. It’s tough for them to police it, but they police a lot of things.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials may have to react.

“Well it’s going be a judgment call, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something, you know, as momentum builds or you see a trend and you’ve got to react, you do.

“We tend to trust the teams out there and the drivers maybe too much at times. But we’ll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, didn’t make a call during the race Sunday. If it’s something we’ve got to address, we’ll talk to the drivers and race teams over the week. If we need to address it, we will in the drivers meeting ahead of Sunday’s race (at ISM Raceway) and make sure we’re staying on top of that.”

In a rules card given to each crew chief, it states: “Any driver who, in the judgment of NASCAR Officials, intentionally causes or attempts to cause a caution period by stopping or spinning out or any other action will be penalized at NASCAR’s discretion.”

Hamlin also called out Logano’s spin last weekend at Martinsville. Hamlin and Logano had contact and it cut one of Logano’s tires. He spun, bringing out the caution.

“The 22 spun on purpose at Martinsville,” Hamlin said of Logano. “Everyone knows that.”

That spin was cited on Larson’s radio as he and his team vented after Wallace’s spin Sunday.

Logano defended his actions in the Martinsville race.

“I had a flat tire last week,” Logano said Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. “What do you want me to do? I’ll try not to spin out. I’m not that good. I wish I was that good. That would be really good. I was good enough to spin out and not hit anything so that was good.”

Kyle Busch noted that Logano’s spin at Martinsville impacted his race.

“There’s countless times that you could look at guys that cause cautions and brought out cautions purposely,” Busch said Monday at Toyota Motor North America Headquarters. “It’s frustrating for sure, especially for us at Martinsville, I think, actually the Logano one ruined our day.

“Either (NASCAR is) going to get involved and fix it or it is going to continue on. If guys get flats or whatever, they’re going to spin themselves out to try to draw a caution so they don’t go laps down. I’ve tried not to do that.

“I can look back at Kansas earlier this year, we got a bad tire rub and I knew I had to come to pit road otherwise it was going to go flat and cost ourselves two laps and finish 30th. Could have spun myself out and stayed on the lead lap and probably finished 10th or eighth or ninth or whatever. It’s NASCAR’s job to figure it out.”

Kyle Busch dominates to Truck win at Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kyle Busch extended his NASCAR Truck Series victory record to 57 in his hometown Friday night, leading 108 of 134 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion swept both stages and finished 5.958 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter. Busch has won seven straight races in the series, including all five he entered last season.

Austin Hill was third, followed by defending series champion Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. Grrant Enfinger, who opened the season with an overtime victory at Daytona, did not finish after an accident with 43 laps to go.

Christian Eckes was right behind Busch in the opening two stages, but he finished 23rd after an early final-stage wreck.

Results

Driver standings

Jimmie Johnson tops final Cup practice at Las Vegas

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Jimmie Johnson was the fastest driver in Friday’s second and final NASCAR Cup practice of the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The seven-time Cup champion hasn’t won a race since 2017, but showed plenty of speed, pacing the 38 cars that took to the 1.5-mile track, clocking a best speed of 179.432 mph.

Johnson and his Chevrolet were followed by five Fords.

Clint Bowyer, who was second-fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, was once again second-fast in the final session at 179.271 mph.

Aric Almirola, who was fastest in the first practice, was third-fastest in the final session at 179.170 mph.

Rounding out the top-5 were Kevin Harvick (179.015 mph) and Matt DiBenedetto (178.814 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Ross Chastain (178.660 mph), who will be filling in for the injured Ryan Newman in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, followed by Kyle Larson (178.424), Ryan Blaney (178.359), John Hunter Nemechek (178.259) and Alex Bowman (178.089).

Final Cup practice results

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Next goals for Daytona winner Denny Hamlin: double-digit wins, Cup crown

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There was a time when Denny Hamlin’s best memories of the Daytona 500 were to just go home relatively unscathed.

Consider this: In Hamlin’s first six appearances in the Great American Race, his highest finish was 17th.

But after a breakthrough 4th-place finish in 2012, he has become the best overall performer in the 500 among active drivers.

“I don’t know what it is, but I think I started studying more about superspeedway racing around that time because I had been so unsuccessful for a very long time,” Hamlin said Friday during a media session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We went a long time and I’ve won a lot of the Clashes and Duel races, but not many like Talladega – I think I have one win there – but it just seems like it’s that seven or eight years ago that the car came around and whatever techniques I use or I’ve adapted to this car have seemed to work.”

In the last seven editions of the 500, Hamlin has finished 2nd (2014), 4th (2015), 1st (2016), 17th (2017), 3rd (2018), 1st (2019) and 1st again this past Monday.

Do the math and that’s three wins – making him only the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win the 500 three or more times – and seven overall top-5 finishes in the last nine season openers.

Hamlin knew that getting his second 500 win in a row – both outcomes being the closest finishes in the race’s 62-year history – and third in the last five years was basically going to come down to a battle between him, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

With emphasis on Newman, that is, before he was involved in that horrific last lap crash on the front stretch heading toward the checkered flag.

“I pulled the block on (Newman) coming to the white (flag) and I stayed in front and I knew he was going to back up to (Blaney),” Hamlin said. “I was trying to back up myself, but once (Newman) was attached (to Blaney), I knew they were going to come with a run I could not stop.

“I just held my line because if I started going sideways, the next thing you know (Newman) starts moving sideways and (Blaney) is already hooked to him, so he’s probably going to push him sideways into me.

“I just wanted to hold a straight line to let them know hey, pass this way, and when I did I was able to back to (Blaney) and was able to unattach him from (Newman). When I slowed his momentum, that allowed me to really tuck in right behind him. I don’t know if he checked up to keep us attached but once we got attached, I knew we were going to have a run back on (Newman).

“I knew he was going to get there, I didn’t know what was going to happen when he did get there, but certainly it worked out in my favor. I thought I was going to get back around (Blaney) at the (finish) line if there was no crash, but I wasn’t sure I was going to get all the way back to (Newman). I knew those two were going to jostle and I was just hoping to be in the right place when it happened and I was.”

Not having any 500 wins of his own, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is envious of Hamlin’s three triumphs.

“Denny has really gotten way better ever since this car,” Busch said of Hamlin and how he’s adapted to the Gen 6 car in recent years. “He was always an aggressive plate racer, one that would make moves that you’re kind of, ‘Man, if he would just stay in line, I think this would turn out better.’

“He still does that today, but he’s making it work for himself, that not staying in line is better for Denny. I think since this car came though, he’s been a real good plate racer.

“He’s been fantastic at the game, he’s understood it, he’s made moves that I sometimes wouldn’t make that have worked, he’s able to pass a guy to get in line. … He’s very knowledgeable and skillful In making his moves and passes.”

Going forward from Daytona, Hamlin said his next goal is double-digit wins this season. If so, he’d become the first driver to earn 10 or more wins in a season since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2007 when the seven-time champ won 10 races.

“I’d be satisfied with that and then beyond that would be nice,” Hamlin said. “I think that the championship is an easy goal that anyone just throws out – win a championship, but that comes down to one race.

“If you can win a significant amount of races, it shows a bigger picture of your full year. If you make it to the Final Four, that’s a bigger picture of your entire year (Hamlin has reached the final four just twice since the format was introduced in 2014 — third that year and fourth last season). I think the championship – a successful year is making the Final Four. Anything after that is just whatever it is.

“Certainly we set lofty goals. I think everyone sets huge and lofty goals, but certainly we’re going to push ourselves to better what we did last year and it starts with Daytona and we’re able to repeat there so then let’s get a win now before we get to Texas to keep ourselves on pace or better from last year.”

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Johnny Sauter on pole for tonight’s Truck race in Las Vegas

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Johnny Sauter will start from the pole in tonight’s Strat 200 Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sauter earned the eighth career pole of his Truck Series career – and first since 2018 – by topping the other 34 drivers that made qualifying attempts with a speed of 177.836 mph.

Sheldon Creed (177.643 mph) will start alongside Sauter on the front row for tonight’s race.

The rest of the top 10 qualifiers were Kyle Busch (177.282 mph), making his first Truck Series start of the season, followed by Christian Eckes (177.189 mph), Ty Majeski (177.189), Austin Hill (176.788 mph), Tyler Ankrum (176.275), Raphael Lessard (176.056), Grant Enfinger (176.010) and Brett Moffitt (175.890).

Tonight’s race starts shortly after 9 p.m. ET (FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Trucks qualifying results

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