Denny Hamlin steals the win at Richmond

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - MARCH 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota, leads Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, on the restart to win the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on March 31, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Joe Gibbs Racing was the class of the field Sunday at Richmond Raceway. But the Gibbs driver who dominated the race was not the driver who won.

Martin Truex Jr. led a race high 228 laps and won Stage 2, but a late race caution that set up an overtime finish saw Denny Hamlin scoring his fifth Richmond win.

And in the end, it was his pit crew that won the race for Hamlin.

“This is a team win for sure,” Hamlin said. “This trophy needs to go to each one of these pit crew members. They just did an amazing job. They’ve been killing it all year.”

Kyle Larson led from pole as for the first time on an oval in a NASCAR Cup series points race, NASCAR used damp tires to start the race.

NASCAR has used full wet weather tires on road courses and used the damp tires at North Wilkesboro in the Cup series during the non-points All-Star Race last season weeks after the tires made their competitive debut during a Truck series race at Martinsville.

Sunday marked their first appearance on an oval in a points paying race.  In the end the tires meant to allow racing on short tracks in damp conditions proved their worth.

Scattered rain had plagued the Richmond area all afternoon, and a light drizzle was falling during driver introductions. But the precipitation ended, and after a 15-minute delay from the scheduled start the field took the green on damp tires. The experiment ended at lap 30 when NASCAR threw a competition caution and froze the field. Since the pit road was still wet the stops were non-competitive as NASCAR told the teams to change to the normal slick tires.

Larson won Stage 1 that ended on lap 65, five laps early thanks to a spin from Daniel Suarez who had contact with Josh Berry.

There was a long green flag run in Stage 2 that had Truex’s strategy spitting the stage in thirds, while Larson’s strategy was to split it in half. Larson pitted on lap 151 just over halfway in the stage giving the lead to Truex.

Both cars stuck to their earlier strategy in Stage 2, but Kyle Busch brushed the wall on lap 171 negating it and putting the field on the same strategy.

Truex would go on to win Stage 2.

The final round of green flag stops started on lap 286 with Truex pitting on lap 287 followed by Larson. Having won pole and getting the number 1 pit stall, Larson was able to muscle past Truex coming out of the pits, but only for a lap when Truex was able to get back by and cycle back to the lead on lap 347. Larsn would fall and settled into fourth place.

Coming to take the white flag, Bubba Wallace in fifth got into Larson coming out of turn 4 sending him spinning on the front stretch bringing out a caution and setting up overtime.

It erased a half second lead for Truex over Logano and sent the 16 cars on the lead lap to the pits. Hamlin, who came in third had a lightning-fast stop and was able to win the race off pit road over Truex and Logano. Larson made an amazing recovery and followed in fourth.

On the restart, Hamlin was able to charge ahead for the win by .269 of a second over Logano.

“I didn’t get a good enough restart,” Logano said. “I really wanted to pressure them down into one and force them to work up Truex, but I spun my tires there just trying to stay with them and that ultimately cost me to be close enough to do something. I don’t know. It feels good to be towards the front again. We haven’t had a run like that in a while, but it also stings to be that close and not capitalize on the win. I guess I have mixed emotions.”

On the final lap Larson was able to muscle past Truex for third.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s unfortunate,” Truex said. “Unfortunately, this has happened here a few times over the years.

“Yeah, we were in a great spot. Had a great Auto Owners Camry all night long. The guys did a really good job. Got beat out of the pits. Got… I don’t know. He jumped the start, then just used me up in turn one, so…

“Definitely sucks. But a good, solid day. Another car capable of winning. So just have to come back next week, try to get them again.”

Fourth place finisher Truex expressed his displeasure with a bump of Larson’s Chevrolet on the cool down lap.

“I don’t know if he thought I just piled it in there,” Larson said. “Then he door-slammed me down the middle of the backstretch. I figured in three and four I was going to use him up a little bit.

“I think he is more mad at Denny, but I was the closest one to take his anger out on. I haven’t seen a replay either. I’m guessing the replay looks the way I kind of saw one and two, and then he’ll realize that and probably be all right.

“Martin is probably the most respected guy in the garage area. So I was surprised when he turned left on me down the backstretch after the checkered.”

“It’s all good,” Larson added. “I hope he doesn’t have any hard feelings to me because I definitely don’t towards him. Like I said, I got a lot of respect for him.”

Chase Elliott finished a quiet fifth.

Christopher Bell was sixth followed by last week’s winner at COTA, William Byron. The Roush-Fenway Keselowski duo of Brad Keselowski and Christopher Buescher were eighth and ninth, while Tyler Reddick rounded out the top 10.

The NASCAR Cup series heads to another short track, Martinsville Speedway across the state of Virigina next Sunday. Larson is the defending winner.


Denny Hamlin Wins In Overtime

Photos: NASCAR at Richmond Raceway Sunday March 31, 2024

Greg Engle