Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin outran Kyle Busch and an impending rainstorm Saturday night, earning the season’s first win in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
After Michael McDowell and Ross Chastain created a late caution with 10 laps remaining, JGR teammate Ty Gibbs led but Hamlin passed him, withstood a charge by Gibbs and Busch, and appeared to win as Gibbs wrecked after taking the white flag.
However, a green-white checker finish ensued, and Hamlin held on over the two laps for his fourth career win in the preseason exhibition race, second only to Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s six.
Busch, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson completed the top five.
With inclement weather headed to the metropolitan area late Saturday night, NASCAR made the decision in the afternoon to move Sunday’s 46th edition of the race — the third at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — up one day.
Reigning Cup Series champion Blaney failed to crack the top 22 in qualifying, forcing him to take a provisional spot.
That bumped Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher, who both made last season’s postseason, out of the 150-lap race. Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric also failed to make the race.
In the non-points event that opens each 36-race campaign, Hamlin and Logano — both past winners of the race — qualified well and put their cars on the front row in first and second, respectively.
In the longest stretch of green-flag racing at the football home of the USC Trojans in its three races, Hamlin, Gibbs and Logano held those positions until Gibbs moved to the point on Lap 50.
Gibbs grew his lead to almost 3 seconds, but the race’s first caution flew on Lap 71 when the No. 38 Ford of Todd Gilliland spun in Turn 1 due to a brake issue.
On the Lap 72 restart, Logano grabbed the lead with Kyle Busch right behind. Meanwhile, leader Gibbs slipped back to third.
After the mid-race break at Lap 75, Gibbs took the lead and easily raced away until the final caution periods over the last 10 circuits.