Denny Hamlin holds off dominant Martin Truex Jr. in history-making NASCAR race at Richmond

Shane Connuck, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

Denny Hamlin wasn’t going to lose his advantage.

Pit stops were, as always, critical late in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond on Easter Sunday. Hamlin felt his team had executed them perfectly, and as an overtime restart began following a caution with fewer than two laps remaining, he found himself with a shot at victory.

Martin Truex Jr., who dominated the race in many ways, led the field to green alongside Hamlin. The two were side-by-side into Turn 1, and Hamlin pulled away and won the two-lap shootout at his home track.

Elton Sawyer, the sport’s senior vice president of competition, told reporters post-race that NASCAR reviewed the finish and “deemed it to be a good restart.”

“This is certainly the new age NASCAR,” Hamlin said in his post-race news conference, “It is so equal on the race track, that really, the pit crew is the ones that make a difference when everyone is running the same speed.”

For the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team, winning Sunday’s race at Richmond was gratification of its pit crew’s efforts.

Hamlin noted that there were stretches over the past few years when he’d be nervous every time he drove down pit road, just hoping deep down that he’d only sacrifice a position or two. He led just 15 laps on Sunday, but his crew made sure he was in the right places at the right times.

There probably weren’t many nerves for Hamlin in his final time driving down pit road on Sunday — as he burned out and steered his Toyota into Victory Lane.

“That’s their walk-off home run,” crew chief Chris Gabehart said. “What I really want to speak to is the intangibles, because that’s where magic happens. It’s people that believe they can do more than they can as individuals, and my team — not just my pit crew, my team. They pull the rope selflessly.”


NASCAR made history at a damp Richmond Raceway

There was rain in Central Virginia throughout the afternoon and early evening Sunday. But the race only needed to be delayed roughly 15 minutes.

The precipitation started to let up toward the evening, and an on-time start still felt unlikely. The track was damp, but NASCAR had its trucks drying the surface. Cars were lined up on pit road in covers.

The race went green a little more than 15 minutes after it had been scheduled — using wet-weather tires. That marked the first time in NASCAR history that a Cup Series points race was run on these tires.

“We could have been sitting there another hour getting everything dry,” Sawyer said. “According to Jim France, this was his vision. A couple years ago, he tasked the (Research and Development) Center and Goodyear to come up with a tire that we could run when it’s damp, and tonight was a success. We were able to get started pretty much on time.”

It was the third time wet-weather tires have ever been used in any NASCAR event, after last year’s All-Star race at North Wilkesboro and a recent Truck Series race at Martinsville.


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