Las Vegas winners and losers

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A look at the winners and losers following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…

WINNERS

Alex BowmanBowman and his No. 48 team found a way to turn a top-10 car into the winning car Sunday, collecting his fifth victory in the past 31 races. The fifth-year Hendrick driver needed a good result after finishes of 24th (Daytona) and 25th (Auto Club) to start 2022. He launches himself into the playoffs — and won’t have to fear the wrath of Hendrick Motorsports boss Rick Hendrick since he raced teammate Kyle Larson cleanly for the win.

Ross ChastainChastain had an exceptional car through the middle of Sunday’s contest and used it to his advantage, wheeling it to the lead for a race-high 83 laps. At the site of his first Xfinity Series win, Chastain — at times — looked poised to score his first Cup victory in Las Vegas. That wasn’t meant to be, but fierce battles with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. en route to a third-place finish show encouraging signs that the No. 1 Chevrolet may contend again soon enough.

Kyle Busch: Busch is likely fuming he finished fourth rather than first, leading with two laps to go before Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace crashed on the front straightaway to bring out the 12th and final caution. However, a miserable weekend featuring a wrecked primary car, a bare-bones backup, early spin and shifter issues turned into Busch’s first top five of the season and third top 15. All things considered, this was a good race for Busch.

William ByronThe No. 24 Chevrolet was running when the checkered flag waved Sunday, and that alone was a win for Byron and his team. After two straight DNFs to start the year, Byron not only wasn’t wrecked; he was in contention for the win. He wasn’t able to capitalize on the two-tire pit call the same way teammates Bowman and Larson were, but a fifth-place finish is a great way to rebound after two miserable weeks.

Aric AlmirolaAlmirola might want to reconsider this whole retirement thing. He wheeled the No. 10 Ford to a sixth-place finish and remains the only driver to score top 10s in each of the year’s first three races. In fact, Almirola now has five straight top-10 finishes dating back to 2021. He remains sixth in points, the highest of all Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

Christopher Bell: Like Byron, Bell just wanted to finish a race for once. He did so with a 10th-place finish, rebounding from a spin at Lap 142 at the exit of Turn 2 that had him bouncing back to pit road on flat tires. Bell had the fastest car on Saturday, putting his No. 20 Toyota on the pole for the first time in his career. Leaving with 32 laps led and a top 10? All good things for Bell.

Corey LaJoieSomeone else who flew under the radar Sunday was Corey LaJoie, who scored his second top-15 finish of the season with a 15th-place effort in Las Vegas. LaJoie was never a factor for the win, netting a 22nd-place average running position according to NASCAR’s loop data statistics. But he still maximized his efforts after an overtime restart and escaped seven places higher than that average. Solid day for the Spire Motorsports entry.

LOSERS

Daniel SuarezWhat a difference a week makes. After coming oh-so-close last week at Auto Club, Suarez was running just outside the top 10 when Chase Briscoe got loose trying to avoid Michael McDowell. Briscoe couldn’t save it before clipping Suarez’s right-rear quarter panel, sending Suarez head-on into the outside wall. Suarez finished 37th — last — for his first finish outside the top 20 this year.

Ryan BlaneyBlaney didn’t fare much better than Suarez, finishing 36th after Brad Keselowski‘s spin landed the No. 6 Ford right into the nose of Blaney’s car. The No. 12 Ford was fast all day and was regularly fighting inside the top five. That was all for naught after heavy front-end damage ended his day early.

Denny HamlinA decent day went upside down in a hurry for Hamlin. While rejoining the racetrack after a green-flag pit stop at Lap 218, Hamlin spun at the exit of Turn 2. He destroyed his gears on pit road and eventually broke his transaxle and was forced to retire from the race. Hamlin was credited with a 32nd-place finish, his second finish outside the top 30 in three races.

Erik Jones: Like Suarez, Jones’ good day at Auto Club meant nothing at Las Vegas. With two laps to go and at the tail-end of the top 10, Jones snapped loose and overcorrected into the outside wall exiting Turn 4, destroying the right-front wheel and suspension before later spinning back in front of traffic. Bubba Wallace barely avoided him before spinning into a tire barrier, but Jones left Las Vegas 31st and out of luck.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Stenhouse was the leader when Hamlin spun in the midst of green-flag stops, leaving the No. 47 Chevrolet as one of only eight cars on the lead lap. Multiple cars got their laps back but Stenhouse was in contention for a top-10 finish heading into the final round of stops in overtime. Instead, a speeding penalty sent him to the rear of the field, relegating Stenhouse to a 21st-place finish.

Chase Briscoe: Briscoe appeared to have one of the fastest Fords of the weekend. But two on-track incidents — first with Suarez and later spinning by himself at Lap 134, caused enough damage to force him out of the race. The sophomore SHR driver has shown speed in all three events this season. But aside from finishing third in the Daytona 500, Briscoe doesn’t have the results to show for it.

Brad Keselowski: Another race resulted in another on-track incident for Keselowski in his new venture as co-owner of RFK Racing. His Lap 102 spin collected former teammate Blaney and damaged the driver-side door of Keselowski. The 2012 Cup champion was able to continue but was mired in the back of the field for most of the day. He finished 24th, one lap down.