For 2 JGR teams Sunday at Richmond ‘unfortunate’, or ‘fortunate’ depends on who you ask

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - MARCH 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on March 31, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

It was the case of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ for Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the NASCAR Cup race at Richmond Sunday night.

While Denny Hamlin celebrated the victory, Martin Truex Jr. wondered what the hell had just happened. Truex led, by far, the most laps Sunday, 228, and won Stage 2. In the closing laps he was comfortably ahead of Joey Logano. In fact, coming to the white flag Truex seemed to have the race won. Then in an instant it all came undone.

Bubba Wallace sent Kyle Larson, who was running fourth and led the second most laps on the night, spinning. That forced NASCAR to throw a caution that set up an overtime finish.

The 16 cars on the lead lap at the time led by Truex pitted. Denny Hamlin was able to beat Truex out thanks to a lightning-fast stop. Hamlin would line up on the inside of Truex on the restart. After a short side-by-side battle Hamlin emerged with the lead and went on to win.

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

“The guys did a really good job all night. We got beat out of the pits and then – I don’t know. He jumped the start and then used me up into turn one. Definitely sucks, but a good solid day and a car capable of winning, so we will just have to come back next week and try to get them then.”

Hamlin had a different perspective on that final restart.

“I mean, I went right at it, for sure,” Hamlin admitted. “I did that because I saw those guys rolling to me. The 22 was laying back. The 19 was rolling a couple miles an hour quicker than I was. I wasn’t going to let them have an advantage that my team earned on pit road.

“Certainly made sure I went to my nose, got there. But I took off right away. Still, we were side by side down the corner into turn one.”

NASCAR’s vice president of competition Elton Sawyer met with the media after the race and acknowledged that NASCAR did look at the final restart.

“We reviewed that, we looked at it,” Sawyer said. “Obviously the 11 was the control vehicle it was awful close (but) we deemed it to be a good restart.”

That left team owner Joe Gibbs with a winning driver, and an angry one that lost a race he seemed to have fully wrapped up.

“Here’s what happens,” Gibbs said. “These guys put so much into this. They’re all great competitors. These things are so hard to win.”

“You’re happy for Denny certainly and everything that happened tonight for him,” Gibbs added. “But then you see Martin, how hard he fought for this, how much he wanted it.

“That’s part of our sport. It’s really hard. You see these guys when it gets down towards the end of these races, they’re going for it because they are really hard to win. You can’t have that happen, particularly if you got good cars, good drivers. They all want it. They want it for their sponsor. They want it for themselves, their career.

“You really feel for them when they go through a night like Martin went through this night. You just feel for them.”

Photos: NASCAR at Richmond Raceway Sunday March 31, 2024

Greg Engle