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Denny Hamlin snuck out of Los Angeles with a trophy and momentum hours before Mother Nature could rain on his parade. As the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season dawns, can the good luck from Saturday's Clash at the Coliseum catapult him toward that long-elusive championship?

"There's only one winner that comes out of this weekend," Hamlin claimed after his victory. "And certainly, it's the 11 team tonight."

The third year of NASCAR's exhibition experiment in Hollywood flipped the script due to record-setting rain and flooding in the forecast. It took an unprecedented move by the sanctioning body to move the race up to Saturday night, offering free admission to fans with the change in plans to ensure the event was run to completion.

Television coverage shifted and it all worked out, a competitive night tilting Hamlin's way when it mattered most. The pole sitter played second fiddle most of the race to teammate Ty Gibbs until late contact between Gibbs and Joey Logano opened the door.

"I was just lucky. I drew the right ping-pong ball with the circumstances," Hamlin said of their Turn 2 scuffle on a restart with 10 laps remaining. "It just kind of opened up the bottom for me."

It was smooth sailing from there, even with the do-anything-for-a-win Kyle Busch behind him. And suddenly, Hamlin's year is off to a perfect start at a race that's served to slingshot its two previous winners straight toward the top.

In 2022? Inaugural winner Joey Logano ended the year with his second Cup championship. And last year, Martin Truex Jr. became the comeback kid, going from missing the playoffs to three wins and the regular-season points title.

Hamlin would be fine with that, claiming 60 career Cup victories is more important to his legacy (he's currently sitting at 51). But make no mistake, at age 43, Hamlin's time to win the championship is at hand. Legendary NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty won their final titles right at 43 and 42 years old, respectively. The oldest champion in NASCAR Cup history is Bobby Allison, capturing his lone title in 1983 at 45.

Coming off successful shoulder surgery this offseason and an engagement to longtime girlfriend Jordan Fish, Hamlin feels healthy and happier than he's ever been. Will Saturday night be the start of peak performance that gets him over the hump of playoff bad luck?

"I don't know," Hamlin said. "You've seen different circumstances where someone wins this race and then nothing happens in the regular season. It just seems like the last two, there's been something. … Certainly believe that I've told you guys that this year, I'm really optimistic about this season and how much we can win."

For now? One of NASCAR's outspoken drivers will settle for riling up the crowd. Again.

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Green: Kyle Busch. For Busch, second place is always the first loser. But Richard Childress Racing petered out during the second half of last season and was a complete non-factor during the playoffs. Runner-up is a crucial reset heading to a Daytona 500 Speedweeks Busch remains hungry to win.

Yellow: Ryan Blaney. Blaney was proof qualifying matters at a Coliseum in which cars were lapping in just over 13 seconds. The reigning champ was forced to take a provisional, starting 23rd with potentially the fastest long-run car and simply ran out of time. At least he put on a show for the fans, beating and banging his way up 20 spots up to third place.

Red: Christopher Bell. While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were at or near the front all night, this back-to-back Championship 4 participant found himself embarrassed, one of 13 drivers who failed to make the main event. In three career attempts out in L.A., Bell has yet to lead a lap or even score a top-five finish.

Speeding Ticket: The future of this race. You can't blame NASCAR for Mother Nature messing up what could have been a healthy Sunday crowd. Getting the race off early came at a cost; the mere threat of flooding, schedule changes and even a canceled halftime concert with Machine Gun Kelly led to half-empty stands and the sport forced to swallow millions in losses.

That said, this concept may have stayed in the region a year too long to begin with. It's time for other urban areas to discover short track racing, and the success of last summer's street race in Chicago shows the sky is the limit. All the sport needs to do is show up and with Auto Club Speedway supposedly returning to the L.A. area as a short track (we think) it's time to take this show on the road. Seattle? Denver? Even New York City? They're all markets starving for a little stock car action. Can NASCAR find a way to move the Clash around beginning in 2025?


The lasting friction from this race will come from Logano and Gibbs, fighting after the race over contact that denied Gibbs his first Cup victory in any format. It was a tough pill for the sophomore to swallow after leading almost as many laps (84) in this exhibition as his entire Cup career to this point (114).

As the conversation continued, both drivers got more animated. "I've watched this my whole life," Gibbs claimed when he talked about Logano's aggression, often a sore spot among others in the garage. "I'll remember that, just like all the other times," Logano retorts, reminding the world how much Gibbs was criticized for playing bumper cars a little too much working his way up in NASCAR's Xfinity Series.

But Logano should also take a breath and remember he once was the young, unproven driver at JGR looking to make a name for himself. This contact, which felt like one of those racing deals, hurt Gibbs far more than it did a two-time champion who's already won in L.A. once before.