There’s no place like home for Denny Hamlin. The Virginia native led from the pole and took control late in the going and held off a frantic charge from Kyle Larson on a green-white-checkered flag finish to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night.
“I’ll tell you our cars were really running well,” Hamlin said. “Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and the whole group just gave me a great car. Really got it tuned in there the last half of the race. Just good restarts – finally everything just kind of worked well for us all day.”
Larson had pitted after the race’s record 16th caution with two laps to go, erasing a comfortable 2-second lead for Hamlin. Larson took a chance pitting out of the top five for four fresh tires while Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and others stayed out on older tires. Larson restarted 13th and rocketed to the front in the final 2 laps.
Hamlin got a great restart however and won by .609 seconds. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 189 of the 400 laps to score his third Richmond win and the 229th of his career.
Truex Jr. led a race high 193 laps came home third behind Larson, Brad Keselowski was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth. Tire strategy played a big role with the amount of cautions. With only 10 sets of tires for each, teams had to manage their new sets. Hamlin took tires on lap 320 and kept them to the end.
“I didn’t think staying out was the right thing to do” Hamlin said. “But great call there.”
While Hamlin and Truex were contesting the lead up front, several drivers were trying to secure their spot in the 2016 Chase. Chris Buescher had a win, but needed to stay inside the top 30 in points coming into Richmond. His nearest rival was David Ragan. Ragan however had mechanical issues early on then saw his night end with a multicar crash on lap 361. Ragan ended the night in the garage and with a 34th place finish.
In the same crash, Ryan Newman saw his Chase hopes end. Newman needed to outpoint Jamie McMurray. Newman struggled most of the race, was penalized for speeding on lap 320, and was contesting a spot with his former boss Tony Stewart. The two got together exiting turn 2 and swept up Carl Edwards on the backstretch. Newman and Edwards shot back up the track sweeping up Dylan Lupton, Ragan, and Brian Scott. The car of Lupton ended up on the top of Newman’s car, while Stewart’s car rolled to a stop on fire on the frontstretch ; Stewart was able to exit his car uninjured. Ragan’s car was also on fire but it was quickly extinguished.
“Tony Stewart ran across my nose twice in one lap,” Newman said. “The second one cost him and me. It’s unfortunate. He has got issues. We all know he’s got issues. He proved it again tonight. I was clearly inside of him getting into Turn 1, he cut across my nose, I was on the brakes, on the apron and I hit him coming off of Turn 2, but only because I got loose, I was on the apron. The next thing I know he is driving across my nose on the back straightaway because he’s Tony Stewart and he thinks he owns everything. It’s unfortunate, but shouldn’t expect anything less from him.”
The crash aftermath brought out a red flag that lasted just over 20 minutes.
“He is right,” Stewart said. “That was the third time he had driven into me during the night. How many times does a guy get a free pass until you have had enough of it? He has to do his part racing for a Championship too…It is not like I was trying to squeeze him in the infield or something. Ryan and I have been good friends, I don’t do that to him. He gets me in (turn) one, and he gets me off of (turn) two. It is the third time by then, and there was another one earlier in the race that nobody saw. Three times, that is two more times than I normally let someone run into me.”
Chase Elliott also secured a spot in the Chase, despite a poor race. He started 34th, had an issue on his first pit stop that dropped him to 38th, then got in a tangle with the former driver of his car Jeff Gordon that left him with a flat tire and a run in with the wall on lap 96 and a pit road speeding penalty on lap 320. Elliott finished 19th on the lead lap and secured his spot in the Chase, becoming the first rookie to do so since Denny Hamlin in 2006.
With Newman falling out, Jamie McMurray made his second career Chase. Austin Dillon avoided trouble all race long finishing a quiet 13th and securing his spot, his first in the Chase.
Saturday night, Kasey Kahne finished sixth, McMurray seventh, followed by Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano rounding on the top 10. The full results can be found here.
The first race in the Chase Round of 16 will be next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network starting at 2:00 p.m. with the green flag coming just after 2:30 p.m.
NOTE: The No. 78 Toyota of Truex failed the post race Laser Inspection Station. Any penalties as a result will be announced next week prior to the start of the Chase.
The 2016 Chase field:
Martin Truex Jr.