Las Vegas takeaways: Denny Hamlin rolling through playoffs


LAS VEGAS — When the Cup playoffs began, one of the key questions was if Denny Hamlin’s inability to win a race in the regular season would hurt his chances to advance because he had so few playoff points.

“We don’t have that buffer we wish we had,” Hamlin said before the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway. “But we feel good enough on performance. It doesn’t matter how many playoff points, if you beat yourself, you’re out. Or if you don’t perform well early in the playoffs.”

Hamlin and his team have limited those mistakes.

After going winless in the first 26 races, Hamlin has won two of the first four playoff races. His victory Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway makes him the first driver to advance to the Round of 8, putting him a step closer to a third consecutive championship race appearance.

He’s following a path he discussed before the playoffs. Asked about a way to make the title race without winning, Hamlin said: “We never say we’re going to consistently make it through. We go thinking how can we win and punch our ticket.”

Hamlin entered the postseason with 15 playoff points. He’s doubled that total in four races with two victories and five stage wins. Only Kyle Larson has more playoff points (60) than Hamlin.

“Certainly, our team’s been really capable all year long,” crew chief Chris Gabehart said. “Every metric other than the win column has been astounding for our team. It’s really been our best year together thus far. You stay up front as much as we have, the wins are going to finally come. They’re coming at the right time.”

Hamlin’s victory Sunday marked his first top-three finish this season in a race with the 550-horsepower package. Hendrick Motorsports has been the dominant team on those tracks. That was the case Sunday. Until a pit call derailed the HMS cars.

Hendrick cars led 103 of the first 152 laps. No Hendrick car led after that. Hamlin led 98 of the final 115 laps.

“It’s really hard to be great everywhere, but we try,” Hamlin said after his 46th career Cup victory tied him with Hall of Famer Buck Baker for 17th on the all-time wins list.

“We try the best we can to do that. But (Hendrick Motorsports) has just been really, really strong, obviously. They’re able to do great things with their cars, especially in traffic. That is very, very hard to replicate.

We’re still taking steps and strides forward, I believe, to try to match them. Again, it’s very, very close. I never thought that we’ve been worse than a third- to fourth-place car on these tracks all year long. It’s just (Sunday), we kind of finished the deal.”


Kevin Harvick’s ninth-place finish Sunday might not seem impressive, but it was to him after the team’s struggles at Las Vegas back in March.

In that race, Harvick started on the pole and quickly faded. Contact damaged the car, but Harvick said the handling was poor before then. He finished 20th.

We knew this would be our biggest challenge,” Harvick said of Las Vegas. “As we came here the first time and were able to run better this time, it was definitely an improvement, so that is a good thing.”

Harvick’s performance moved him two spots to 10th in the standings. He’s seven points below the cutline heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Harvick will be without crew chief Rodney Childers at Talladega. Childers will serve a one-race suspension because Harvick’s car had two lug nuts not secure after the Las Vegas race.

If there is a race that a team can afford to not have a crew chief, it could be Talladega. Pit strategy is done through the manufacturer, so groups of cars pit together. With the event a one-day show, there’s not as much need for a crew chief there.

Before Sunday’s race, Harvick had more to say about Chase Elliott. Harvick likened talking to Elliott after their on-track incidents at Bristol last week to speaking with son Keelan.

“It’s identical,” Harvick said. “It’s 100% the exact same scenario. They get hung up on one thing and you can’t speak to them about the broader picture about how the whole thing works. It was like speaking to a 9-year-old.”

Las Vegas winner Denny Hamlin was asked about Harvick’s mind games with Elliott. Hamlin said that’s not what he sees.

“Harvick’s kind of mind games was more so earlier in his career,” said Hamlin, who was the subject of Harvick’s ploys in the past. “I think he was just generally pissed off last week and this week. I just think he probably legitimately had a gripe. I can’t condone one way or another. He had a gripe and he voiced it.”


Josh Berry’s win Saturday at Las Vegas continued a magical season for the Late Model driver who will have a full-time Xfinity Series ride with JR Motorsports next season.

It’s perhaps appropriate that Berry won on Saturday, the same day as the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, one of the biggest Late Model races on the schedule and an event Berry won in 2019.

Berry was asked after his Vegas win if his success this season – he also won the Xfinity race at Martinsville in a part-time ride with JRM before Sam Mayer turned 18 and took over that car – can provide hope to those drivers who competed at Martinsville this past weekend.

“I really hope that I’m giving hope to some of these guys,” said Berry, who was in the No. 1 at Las Vegas in place of an ailing Michael Annett. “I hope it opens up more opportunities for them, not just in Late Models or Late Model stocks. There’s tons of great racers in modifieds and dirt and everything across the country.

“I think the biggest thing … is just how much had to line up to get me here. The insane amount of success of our Late Model team. Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and L.W. (Miller) just giving me an opportunity, all the partners that supported that got me there.

“Then this magical win at Martinsville that snowballs. All this stuff had to line up. Sam coming into our program. If he’s born a couple of months earlier, there’s no place for Josh, or Josh’s opportunity might be three or four races instead of 12. It’s just so hard to get here. I tell people that all the time.

“For a long time, I carried frustration feeling that I was capable at this level. I carried that frustration for a long time. I just never let it affect anything that I did. I just worked hard, raced, tried to win, enjoy myself. I just can’t believe how much my life has changed in the last year.

“After I won at Martinsville, a great friend and manager at JRM, L.W. Miller, who has been a part of my career for a long time, he said: ‘You did that. Now go drive your stake into the ground. Prove yourself. Make sure there is no way you are not in this series going forward. That’s what we did.’”


Lost in the results of Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas was the performance of 20-year-old Howie DiSavino III.

Racing just days after his mother Dawn passed away after a five-year battle with cancer, he finished 26th. His mother’s name was above the door on his truck.

“My mom was one of the most compassionate people you would ever meet,” DiSavino told NBC Sports. “She dedicated herself to raising myself and my older two sisters.  … I would always, after a race, call her and she would always tell me how great I did even if I had bad races.

“She would always be there for me. It’s definitely a big adjustment, but we all knew that this day was going to come eventually. Did we want it to come this fast? Of course not. She told me just two weeks ago, ‘Have fun at Bristol and Las Vegas and pass them all.’ It means a lot to me to race in her honor.”

Las Vegas was DiSavino’s fifth career Truck start. All have come this year for Jordan Anderson Racing. DiSavino’s best finish is 22nd at Pocono. He does not have any other Truck starts scheduled at this time.

“I knew it was going to be extremely hard,” he said of racing in the Truck Series. “We picked up the pace pretty good at each race track that we showed up to. … I’m appreciative of every opportunity I get to run races.”

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”