NASCAR Cup: Hamlin wins at Home, Chase field set
Denny Hamlin celebrates winning the Federated Airo Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Denny Hamlin celebrated racing at his home track on Saturday night by book-ending the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season with a win in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. It was his third win of the season, adding to victories in the season-opening Daytona 500 and most recently at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
“That’s what’s so special about it, so you get to do it at home and there’s just — I see all the extra Denny Hamlin shirts and hats and everything and fires me up every time I get here,” Hamlin said. “I’ve also got to thank Sport Clips for their support this year, as well. Got all that covered, and man, this is a great car. Hopefully, we can use it in the Chase.”
Kyle Larson finished second after passing Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap and relegating Truex to third. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five.
With the RIR races wrapping up the regular season, the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field was finalized. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Chris Buescher headed into the race provisionally with Chase spots. All four did what was necessary to hang on to those positions and become official Chasers at the checkered flag.
“I knew we could get here,” Buescher said. “I knew we had a good shot at it. For as much as we had going on ,I know David is bummed to get caught up in a wreck, and this isn’t how we wanted to clinch it but it made it easier in that sense. The second part was trying to get to the top-30 in owners points, and that wasn’t easy, either.”
Hamlin and Truex combined to lead most of the race that was scheduled for a 400-lap distance but was extended to 407 laps when a record-16th yellow flag waved on lap 399. The yellow flag waved only four times in the first half of the 400-lap scheduled distance, including a caution that came right at the race’s halfway point, but the second half of the race was marred by an additional 12 yellow flags, including one for an eight-car wreck on lap 363 that resulted in a 20-minute red flag for track clean-up.
The large multi-car wreck was set off by contact between Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart.
“I think it was pretty obvious (what happened) watching the video,” Newman said. “I don’t even have to watch it. The #14 (Stewart) cut across my nose into turn one, and I got into him after that, but he’d already chopped into me and messed up my line, and I clipped him a little bit coming off of (turn) two. But he just cut across my nose going down the back straightaway, there. I guess he thought he was in a sprint car again. Did not know how to control his anger.”
After the race, Stewart acknowledged that his contact was intentional, put pointed out that Newman had already hit him multiple times.
“He’s right,” Stewart said. “I mean, that was the third time he had driven into me during the night. How many times does a guy get a free pas suntil you’ve had enough of it? So, you know, he’s got to do his part racing to get in there (into the Chase) to race for a championship. And if you’re going to run into guys. I go into (turn) one, and he dive-bombs in there. I was already coming down. It’s not like I was trying to squeeze him into the infield or something.”
Newman was among a handful of drivers on the outside but with a mathematical chance at making the Chase. He failed.
Buescher was among the other casualties of the incident, but fortunately for him, so was David Ragan, the driver he had to remain in front of or not lose very much ground to in order to maintain a Chase berth.
The combo of Hamlin and Truex combined to lead a total of 382 laps, with Truex leading a race-high 193 laps. Hamlin ran in the top-five throughout the race. Truex, though, was assessed a pit-road speeding penalty during a lap 265 yellow flag. After teams began running low on tires, pit strategy put Truex back near the front. Several drivers, including Hamlin, stayed out during a lap 279 caution. Truex, though, pitted. Then, having recently pitted, Truex stayed out when the yellow flag waved again on lap 291, while those who stayed out during the previous caution headed down pit road.
Truex restarted third behind Larson and Kahne and got up to second when the race restarted. Just passed lap 300, Truex retook the lead. Soon, he was joined in second by Hamlin.
Hamlin retook the lead by getting off pit road during a yellow flag with just under 80 laps remaining and ran up front the rest of the way.
Finishing the race sixth through 10th were Kasey Kahne, McMurray, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.