Denny Hamlin runs third at Richmond but still has work to do

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, leads Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 30, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. – A third-place finish at Richmond International Raceway was little consolation for Virginia native Denny Hamlin, who craves victory at his home track but knows his cars aren’t yet fast enough to outrun the best in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“Yeah, it was about as good as we had,” Hamlin said. “You know, we just didn’t have the speed that the other cars had. But we optimized our day. It’s the best we could do. We finished right where we should have.”

Hamlin thought he and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch might have the opportunity to steal a win when Toyota Owners 400 race winner Joey Logano and runner-up Brad Keselowski stayed out on old tires under caution on Lap 368 of 400. A subsequent caution on Lap 377, however, gave Logano and Keselowski another chance to come to pit road and put the cars back on equal footing.

“There was a moment where the two Penske cars stayed out, and we pitted, and that’s where I thought, ‘OK, this could be the chance that we have to steal it,” Hamlin said.

“But then we had another caution, and then they came in and pitted with us. We knew we had to do something different to beat those guys. We weren’t going to be able to beat them straight up. We had to either beat them off pit road, or we had to be on a different tire strategy.

“And the only way to be on a different tire strategy is we were going to have to hope they didn’t pit, and they didn’t, and my eyes got really big at that moment thinking, ‘This could be our chance to level the playing field and race these guys.’ But we had another caution, and it kind of screwed all that up.”