For Denny Hamlin, races at Richmond International Raceway are home games. It would mean the world for him to win there since he grew up only eight miles from the track.
Well, after Saturday night, Denny doesn’t have to pine for a win anymore.
Hamlin led six times for 299 laps Saturday night, although many of those laps early in the race were spent in a prolonged side-by-side duel with Jeff Gordon. Eventually, Hamlin got the upper hand over Gordon and slowly pulled away. This was essentially the race right here because Gordon showed through most of the race that he was the only driver that could run with Denny.
After the final pit stops with less than 20 laps to go, Kurt Busch brought the gauntlet to Hamlin, but he couldn’t stay with Denny. Hamlin held on to win the Chevy Rock n’ Roll 400. The margin of victory was .378 seconds.
This was Hamlin’s first career victory at Richmond, but not the first time that he has effectively dominated a race at the 3/4-mile oval. Hamlin completely dominated the May event at Richmond last year (the Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400), leading all but one of the first 382 laps. However, a flat tire late in the going resulted in a 24th place finish, three laps down to winner Clint Bowyer.
After the race ended, Hamlin discussed what it was like to finally win at home.
“[It’s] like a Daytona 500 win for anyone else,” Hamlin said during the post-race press conference. “I mentioned before that I wanted to win this race before I won a 500, but now, of course, I know how special that race is to everyone.”
Kurt Busch brought his Miller Lite Dodge home in second place.
“We did what we needed to do tonight to make the Chase and I’m so proud of our Miller Lite Dodge Team,” Busch said after the race. “We made great adjustments on the car which we hadn’t done most of the year during the race. To be in contention to win like that at the end and have great pit stops all night, it shows we’re ready.”
Following Hamlin and Kurt Busch was fellow chaser and early frontrunner Gordon in third. He never really recovered from contact with Bowyer on lap 326 which knocked him back to seventh. Polesitter Mark Martin finished a strong fourth despite never really being in contention for the win. Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Bowyer brought his Cheerios/Hamburger Helper No. 33 home in sixth, followed by Brian Vickers. Vickers’s seventh-place finish locked him into the 12th and final Chase spot. Kyle Busch just couldn’t stay far enough ahead in order to lock himself in. Sam Hornish Jr. came up with his second straight top 10 at Richmond with an eighth-place run. Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
As a result of the points resetting after Richmond, Martin with his four victories this season has the number one spot with 5,040 points. Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart each have three wins, so they are tied for second at the moment. Hamlin and Kasey Kahne (who are the last two winners in the Sprint Cup Series) have two wins each, so they will start the Chase in a tie for fourth with 5,020 points.
Gordon, Vickers and Kurt Busch each won one race in the first 26, so they will be tied for sixth with 5,010 points. The last four Chase participants, Carl Edwards, Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Greg Biffle, have not won a race so far this season. As a result, they will start the Chase with the minimum 5,000 points, tied for ninth.
Just missing out on the Chase is Kyle Busch in 13th, just eight points behind Vickers in the regular standings. Matt Kenseth is 14th, 30 points behind Kyle Busch.
Around the 35th-Place Cutoff
Scott Speed had a terrible night at Richmond on Saturday night. The weekend started out OK with a 20th-place effort in qualifying, second fastest of the “go or go home” cars. However, Speed didn’t make it five miles into the race before trouble struck. On lap 5, Stewart got a little loose on the inside of turn 1. This forced him to move slightly up the track. Jeff Burton was outside of Stewart and also had to move up the track. This put Burton right into the No. 82 of Speed, spinning him into the wall rear-end first.
From there, the rest of the night was a struggle. Speed was a lap down from square one and never got that lap back (although he did come close relatively early). He eventually brought the Red Bull No. 82 home in 36th place, four laps down.
Speed’s competition for the 35th spot, the No. 34 Taco Bell Chevrolet driven by John Andretti, had a typical night. Andretti qualified the No. 34 39th on Friday and circulated towards the rear of the field early. However, Andretti’s car slowly came to life while Speed dropped multiple laps. Andretti lost a lap very early in the race, but never dropped more than two down during the event. Late in the going, Andretti took advantage of a wave around to finish only one lap down in 29th. This has opened the margin between the Nos. 34 and 82 to 115 points.
The best finish put together by a team outside of the top 25 in owner points was the eighth-place finish put together by Hornish Jr. This backs up his sixth-place finish from the spring. Also worth noting, Joe Nemechek acquired sponsorship for Saturday’s race from Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, a Wharton, Maryland music store. This allowed Nemechek to run the whole race. Unfortunately, Nemechek could do no better than 35th, four laps down.