Denny Hamlin wins the first Cup series race this season at Richmond

Denny Hamlin wins the first Cup series race this season at Richmond

Denny Hamlin sped past William Byron with four laps remaining to win the Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway on Sunday.

On Sunday, Denny Hamlin marched down the victory lane with a win in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver scored his first top-ten result.

The victory was Hamlin’s first of the season, as well as the team’s and Toyota’s firsts. This is the hometown driver’s fourth triumph in Richmond, and his 47th Cup victory overall.

Through the first six races of the season, Hamlin had yet to finish in the top ten, but a strategy call by crew chief Chris Gabehart got the No. 11 Toyota to pit road for fresh tires at Lap 354, well ahead of the rest of the field.

Hamlin overcame a huge deficit to race leader Byron, who had burned out his tires and pitted at Lap 311. The final 136 laps were completed without incident. For the first time since Bubba Wallace won at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2021, Toyota is back in the winner’s circle.

In a furious struggle between four drivers, the race came down to the final few laps. William Byron was in the lead, attempting to hold off Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were just behind them, using a different plan.

With only four laps to go, Hamlin took the lead and held off Harvick to claim a much-needed victory.

“Just great strategy there,” Hamlin exclaimed.

“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.”

“We needed a data point, something, a good run to kind of balance ourselves on other tracks. Obviously, I think we got it here,” Hamlin added. Prior to Sunday’s race, Hamlin was 22nd in the points standings.

Toyota had been without a win for 11 races, their longest drought since going 32 races without a win between 2014 and 2015.

Gibbs’ victory today is their 18th in Richmond, and their sixth in the last eight games. This is the third race in a row that all four JGR drivers have finished in the top ten.

Harvick came up just short of winning for the first time since the 2020 Bristol night race, but the No. 4 Ford Mustang driver was happy with his season-best runner-up performance.

“We had a shot there at the end,” Harvick said.

“I wanted to be close enough at the white to take a swipe at him, but lapped cars got in the way there. I’m just really proud.”

“I’m proud of the team for staying in there and having a great strategy. It was really the first clean day we’ve had all year.”

After leading 122 laps, Byron finished in third position. Truex finished fourth, just a few laps behind him, as both drivers attempted to complete the final 170-lap stage with only one pit stop.

Kyle Larson completed the top five, capping off a successful day for Hendrick Motorsports. Truex, who has dominated the race in recent years, was dissatisfied with the outcome of the final laps.

“I mean, it’s frustrating. But that’s part of it here. It’s part of the whole day,” Truex said.

“Obviously, we did good there for a while. James Small did a great job all day with strategy, getting us up front, getting us the lead.”

“Our Auto Owners Camry TRD was super-fast out front, super-fast in clean air. At the end, I think we just tried to gamble, tried to gamble on beating Byron. He ended up trying to do our strategy, which we both screwed up.”

Christopher Bell, Martin’s teammate, led 63 laps today and finished sixth. On the 0.75-mile oval, the youngest of JGR’s four drivers continues to shine. Pole sitter Ryan Blaney led the most laps (129) and won Stage 1, however an issue late in the race knocked him out of contention, and the Team Penske driver finished seventh.

After rebounding from a pit road penalty, Alex Bowman had another strong performance in his No. 48 Chevrolet, finishing eighth. On Sunday, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon rounded out the top ten.

It was another day that was building up well for Busch, only for something to go wrong at the last end. After running in the top five all afternoon, the No. 18 crew made the error of putting tape on the front of his Toyota, for which NASCAR penalised them.

“We missed putting brake tape on and that’s what happened,” Crew chief Ben Beshore explained the mistake.

“I didn’t think it would stick, to be honest. I thought it would fall off and it wouldn’t be a problem because the grilles are…wire and big fat openings.”

“I figured as soon as we went and pushed somebody it would fly right off.”

While the JGR Toyotas had a good day, 23XI Racing’s two Camrys had a bad day. Kurt Busch’s No. 45 car lost power eight laps into the race and finished 35th. Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota was never able to move close to the front of the race, and he finished 26th.

In the first seven races of the season, there have been seven different winners. With a 19-point lead over Truex, Blaney and Elliott are tied for the championship lead.

Staying in Virginia, the next event on the schedule will take place under the lights at the circuit’s smallest track. The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway airs on FS1 at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night.

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