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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Alex Bowman Uses Final Restart to Steal Victory at Richmond

Alex Bowman used a restart with 12 laps to go as a springboard for an out-of-nowhere win, passing Denny Hamlin late to win Sunday afternoon’s (April 18) Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

Joey Logano, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five. Aric Almirola, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10.

The Virginia track didn’t host a spring race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on-track action returned in April 2021. Bowman had three top 20 finishes prior to 2020, where he finished ninth, and capped off a steadily improving track record in the Commonwealth with the win.

“Just a badass racecar, simple as that,” he said in his post-race interview. “[Crew chief] Greg Ives, all the guys, they gotta deal with me at short tracks and I drive these places really wrong. Instead of trying to make me figure it out, we went to work on trying to make the race car where I needed to be. Greg has done such an amazing job of making that happen.”

Bowman was also visibly emotional, dedicating the win to Hendrick Motorsports crew member William “Rowdy” Harrell. Harrell, along with his wife Blakley, were both killed in a car crash last November on their honeymoon.

“This one’s for Rowdy and his family. Miss him and [wife] Blakley every day. Means the world to be able to win for Ally and it’s definitely emotional, obviously, with how hard the offseason was on us. Appreciative of the opportunity and we got more races to win this year.”

HMS had not won at Richmond since 2008, when the No. 48 – then driven by Jimmie Johnson – won the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 in the fall. Bowman also scored the first points-paying win for Ally Financial since their return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2018 (they had previously sponsored the team as GMAC and their former subsidiary, Ditech). The win boosted him up from 17th to 13th in the standings.

Just seven days later and 180 miles northeast from the site of his win at Martinsville, Truex picked up right where he left off, sitting on pole and leading from the drop of the green flag.

His time out front came to an end at the competition caution when his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin beat the No. 19 off of pit road.

Hamlin led the field back to green and never looked back, cruising to a stage one victory.

Truex kept the JGR leader party going when he retook the lead from Hamlin early in the second stage, eventually dropping to pit road for a set of green flag pit stops that was interrupted by a caution. Ryan Newman spun in turn 1 off the bumper of Austin Cindric, marking the first time a caution for incident flew at Richmond since the fall of 2019.

That last yellow was way back in the fall of 2019, when then-leader and eventual race winner Truex was tagged by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and spun. 2020’s fall race featured zero cautions for incidents.

Hamlin went on to win the second stage in his home state, sweeping both segments, and retained the lead well into the final stage as he pulled away to an almost two-second advantage over Logano. The No. 11 team was also racing with heavy hearts in the wake of the April 15 mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, which claimed the lives of eight employees.

Defending winner Brad Keselowski stayed out longer than his competitors during the second stage’s pit stop cycle, but the No. 2 ended up losing a lap to the field. With less than 150 laps remaining, just 12 drivers sat on the lead lap. Truex saw a solid top five run slip away and his lead-lap berth do the same when he was tagged for speeding on pit road.

Hamlin was passed by Logano but fought back, closing back up and battling with the No. 22 before Kevin Harvick cut his right rear tire and backed into the turn 1. That brought out the final caution with 19 laps to go.

Another round of pit stops followed, with Hamlin winning the race off and restarting on the bottom. All of a sudden, the No. 48 was there. Prior to the caution, Bowman had recovered from an uncontrolled tire penalty during the break at the end of stage two to get back up to fourth.

Bowman pulled alongside Hamlin and the pair dueled for a short time before the No. 48 was clear. Bowman started pulling away, but Hamlin closed back in when Quin Houff‘s No. 00 was slow in front of both cars. With just a couple of laps left, Hamlin couldn’t mount another charge and Bowman crossed under the checkered flag to win his third career race.

“To be honest with you, we were terrible on short runs,” he said in his post-race interview. “We restarted third and I’m like, ‘man, if we get out of here with a solid top five, we’ll be good.’

“[We’ve] overcome a lot today,” he added. “I don’t know if Greg [Ives] pumped the pressures way up for what he did, but that’s more grip than I’ve ever had in a racecar at Richmond and it worked out really well. Getting to race a guy like Denny at a place like this is really cool, we raced each other really clean, so appreciative of that and means a lot.”

NASCAR CUP SERIES TOYOTA OWNERS 400 UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

With the trio of spring short track dates completed, the Cup Series prepares for a radical change next week: drivers and crews head down south to Talladega Superspeedway for the GEICO 500. Ryan Blaney won the COVID-postponed, 188-lap race there last year; coverage of the 2021 running is set for Sunday, April 25 at 2 p.m. ET on FOX.

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