Denny Hamlin won Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway as the drama of who would make up NASCAR’s Chase field unfolded behind him.
Hamlin’s victory in a green-white-checker finish was his third of the season, edging a hard-charging Kyle Larson on the 405th of a scheduled 400 laps.
Hamlin was one of 12 drivers who had already clinched a spot in the 16-driver, 10-race Chase, which begins next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Rookie Chris Buescher, who needed to maintain his spot in the top 30 in points to make the Chase, did just that by finishing 24th. Jamie McMurray grabbed the 16th and final spot with a sixth-place finish. Rookie Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon needed solid finishes to stay inside the top 16 and made the Chase on points.
The race was marked by a track-record 16 cautions. It came down to tire strategy, as most teams used up their alottment of 10 sets of Goodyears well before the race reached its final stages. Larson, who pitted for new tires during the final caution, was 12th on the restart and roared through the field to nearly catch Hamlin.
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Tempers also flared, especially when Tony Stewart wrecked Ryan Newman (his former teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing) on Lap 364.
Newman entered the race 22 points out of the 16th spot in the Chase standings. He needed to either win or make up those 22 points on McMurray to make the postseason.
A wreck involving Regan Smith with two laps remaining forced a green-white-checker finish. Hamlin, first on the restart but on older tires, jumped away from the field and won with Larson closing in.
Three who mattered
Denny Hamlin: Wins his third race of the season and carries lots of momentum into the Chase.
Chris Buescher: Joins fellow rookie Chase Elliott in the Chase, but had to finish 24th to clinch his spot.
Tony Stewart: Caused a wreck (Ryan Newman) for second consecutive week. Who knows what he’s been thinking?
▪ The numbers on Joe Gibbs Racing’s cars -- Denny Hamlin’s No. 11, Carl Edwards’ No. 19, Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 and Kyle Busch’s no. 18 -- were all in silver to commemorate the organization’s 25th anniversary.
▪ Rookie Ryan Blaney, who could have made the Chase with a win, hit the wall after a tire went down on Lap 12. That ended his postseason chances.
▪ It was fan appreciation weekend at Richmond. Drivers showed their appreciation to those in attendance (nearly filling the 60,000-seat track) by going four-wide and 10-deep during one warmup lap.
▪ Kevin Harvick fired two of his pit crew members last week (sending them to Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick’s team). Harvick’s made-over crew did OK Saturday, but Harvick was penalized for speeding on pit road at one point.
They said it
“It’s hard for me not to say it’s a nine-and-a-half now (out of 10) for our momentum heading into the Chase.” – Hamlin.
Three tweets from Saturday’s race:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400
Where: Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, Ill.
When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday.
TV: NBC Sports Network.
Radio: Motor Racing Network.