Surprise: Denny Hamlin spoils the kids party at Richmond

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - APRIL 03: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin spoiled the youngsters party Sunday night. After winners through the first six races of 2022 all being 30 or younger, Hamlin 41-year-old Hamlin took the lead from William Byron with four laps to go and won the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

It was the Virginia natives fourth career win at his home track, and the 47th of his career. And the first win of 2022 for Toyota.

In a race that was a mix of pit strategies, it was William Byron whose Hendrick Motorsports team gambled leaving him out during a final round of green flag pit stops that saw Martin Truex Jr. give up the lead on lap 323 of 400.

Byron, who last pitted on lap 310, had a sizeable lead as the laps wound down, but Truex slowly closed the distance as the leaders fought through heavy traffic.

Hamlin meanwhile pitted on lap 360 and with fresher tires than both Truex and Byron, was able to close the gap, surprising everyone as he first passed Truex in second, then Byron. Kevin Havick also on fresher tires followed him into second but had nothing for Hamlin on the last lap as Hamlin crossed the line .552 of a second over Harvick.

“Yeah, just great strategy there,” Hamlin said. “Just drove as hard as I could. Just so proud of this whole FedEx Camry team, man, just never giving up.”

There was no doubt in my mind, maybe just a little, but they got this car right there towards the end. Wow, unbelievable.”

Byron held on for third, and like many others in the field was surprised to see Hamlin appear in the final laps.

“I thought there at the end they told me I was just racing the 19(Truex),” Byron said. “I’m like ok I got him, but then the 4 (Harvick) and the 11 (Hamlin) were on a totally different planet.”

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – APRIL 03: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, races William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, in the closing laps of the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Truex, who won Stage 2 was forced to settle for fifth.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s frustrating,” Truex said. “But that’s part of it here. It’s part of the whole day. Obviously, we did good there for a while.”

“At the end I think we just tried to gamble, tried to gamble on beating the 24. He ended up trying to do our strategy, which we both screwed up.”

Perhaps no one was a disappointed at the end of the day than Ryan Blaney. Blaney started from pole and led every one of the first 70 laps in Stage 1. He would go on to lead a race high 128 laps, but for the tenth time in his career after leading over 100 laps, failed to win. He was scored seventh behind Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell.

Stage 2 ran caution free and there were only 3 cautions for on-track incidents.

Alex Bowman overcame an early pit road penalty to finish eighth. Kyle Busch was in contention much of the day finishing Stage 1 fifth and Stage 2 sixth, but NASCAR penalized him on 348 for unapproved tape on the front grille of his Toyota. He was forced to pit and returned to the race 14th two laps down. He staged a heroic charge back through the field and finished ninth. Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10.

Sunday’s race was the first short track test for NASCAR’s Next Gen car with no real issues, expect for Busch’s penalty.

After finishes outside the top 15 in the first six races, including three DNFs. Hamlin has now secured a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs, and more importantly helped regain some lost confidence.

“We needed a data point, something, a good run to kind of balance ourselves on other tracks.,” Hamlin said. “Obviously I think we got it here.”

NASCAR stays in Virginia and heads to another short track, the shortest on the schedule Martinsville Speedway next Saturday night.

Photos: NASCAR at Richmond Raceway, Sunday Apr. 3, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results TOYOTA OWNERS 400
Richmond Raceway
Richmond, Virginia
Sunday, April 3, 2022

1. (13) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400.

2. (7) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 400.

3. (2) William Byron, Chevrolet, 400.

4. (6) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 400.

5. (21) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400.

6. (9) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 400.

7. (1) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 400.

8. (28) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 400.

9. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400.

10. (25) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 400.

11. (4) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 400.

12. (16) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 400.

13. (19) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400.

14. (15) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400.

15. (18) Chris Buescher, Ford, 400.

16. (14) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 400.

17. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, 399.

18. (17) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 399.

19. (8) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 399.

20. (20) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 399.

21. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 398.

22. (12) Cole Custer, Ford, 398.

23. (5) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 398.

24. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 398.

25. (22) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 397.

26. (29) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 397.

27. (26) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 396.

28. (32) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 396.

29. (36) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 396.

30. (24) Michael McDowell, Ford, 395.

31. (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 392.

32. (23) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 390.

33. (35) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 390.

34. (34) BJ McLeod, Ford, 386.

35. (27) Kurt Busch, Toyota, 291.

36. (33) Cody Ware, Ford, Accident, 241.

37. (37) Greg Biffle, Chevrolet, Suspension, 96.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 97.447 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 4 Mins, 43 Secs. Margin of Victory: .552 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 35 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: R. Blaney 1-128;C. Bell 129-154;M. Truex Jr. 155-175;J. Logano 176;C. Bell 177-211;M. Truex Jr. 212-233;C. Bell 234;M. Truex Jr. 235-258;C. Bell 259;W. Byron 260-310;M. Truex Jr. 311-323;K. Busch 324;W. Byron 325-395;D. Hamlin 396-400.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Ryan Blaney 1 time for 128 laps; William Byron 2 times for 122 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 4 times for 80 laps; Christopher Bell 4 times for 63 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 5 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 1 lap; Kyle Busch 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 12,24,1,19,18,9,20,22,6,4
Stage #2 Top Ten: 19,20,1,22,12,9,4,18,5,6

Greg Engle