Hamlin finally finds Next Gen formula, wins in Richmond – Salisbury Post

By Hank Kurz Jr.
AP Sports Writer

RICHMOND, Va. — Denny Hamlin hoped a visit to the track he watched races at as a youngster would help kick off a season that started off in an unusual way — badly.

Thanks to a clever tire strategy that his team timed well, he pulled it off.

Hamlin beat William Byron with five laps to go on Sunday and ended the slowest start to his career with a win in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“You just have a tough season and if things aren’t going well and it looks like the breaks aren’t going your way then the law of averages says things will sort of work out and we improve our performance and today the day it all fell into place,” said Hamlin, who started the day 22nd in points.

In a race that featured four rounds of green-flag pit stops and plenty of tire strategy, Hamlin closed a huge gap between Byron and teammate Martin Truex Jr., passing Truex on the outside and Byron shortly after. . He then held off a challenge from three-time Richmond winner Kevin Harvick.

“Yeah, just a great strategy there. I just drove as hard as I could,” Hamlin said after getting out of his car. “There was no doubt in my mind, maybe just a little, but they got that car there towards the end. Wow, amazing.

Hamlin’s 47th career victory was his first at his hometown circuit since 2016, the first for Toyota in the Next Gen car and gave NASCAR seven different winners in seven Cup Series races.

Harvick finished second, followed by Byron, Truex and Kyle Larson.

“I had a hit there at the end,” Harvick said. “I wanted to be close enough to white to shoot him. Yeah, the lapped cars there kind of got in the way and I lost a bit of ground.

Hamlin came into contention on Stage 2 when he and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell opted to stay on the track while most of the rest of the field pitted on the tires. The move initially gave risk takers a sizable lead, but that quickly began to evaporate.

Hamlin paid off on the final stage, moving from 15th to 7th in just a few laps after a restart using the extra set of tires he had on the field.

Byron and Truex tried to make a similar strategy work at the end, trying to do almost 90 laps on the same tires while Hamlin and Harvick and most of the others came to a halt with just under 50 laps to go. They almost made it work.

“In the end, I think we just tried to bet…beating 24. He ended up trying to do our strategy, which we both screwed up,” Truex said. He was looking for his fourth win in the last six races on the 0.75-mile D-shaped oval, but instead Hamlin gave the current JGR team 13 wins here.

Byron, meanwhile, refused to pull back from the big lead he held as most of the field headed under the green with just over 50 laps to go. Truex did too, but ultimately Hamlin passed them both for his first top 10 of the season. He also snapped a 12-game winning streak under the age of 30.

“I thought in the end they told me I was just racing (Truex),” Byron said of his team. “I’m like, ‘OK. I got it,’ but then (Harvick) and (Hamlin) were on a totally different planet. … I couldn’t do anything about them.

KYLE IN ANGRY

Kyle Busch, the fourth member of the JGR team, was black flagged with about 50 laps to go when NASCAR noticed a piece of duct tape on his grille. At the time, his three teammates were playing in the top 10 and he was getting closer to joining them. He finished ninth.

QUICK START

Ryan Blaney took his third straight pole and led the entire first 70-lap stage and the first 128 laps in all, but continued to struggle in Richmond.

“I wanted to race better, but I can’t complain too much about it,” Blaney said. “We just need to find a bit more speed, but it was good that we kind of put together some decent marks and had a decent run at Richmond.”

FOLLOWING

NASCAR’s top three series will be in Virginia again next weekend with a Truck-Xfinity-Cup Series treble slated for Martinsville Speedway.