Longtime NASCAR sensation Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag Sunday in his home state at the Toyota Owners 400 in Richmond, Virginia. The 41-year-old driver bested a handful of young bucks like Ryan Blaney and William Byron to take the short-track crown. With the win, Hamlin is the first driver over the age of 30 to claim a Cup Series points-paying race this season.
“Just great strategy there. Just drove as hard as I could. I’m so proud of this whole FedEx Camry team, man, just never giving up,” Hamlin said after the race. “There was no doubt in my mind, maybe just a little, but they got this car right there towards the end.”
Hamlin took home the victory after a sweet pit call by crew chief Chris Gabehart to put fresh rubber on the car with 46 laps to go. Hamlin would eventually pass Byron and his worn tires with just five laps to go for the victory.
In his multi-decade career, Hamlin has won at Richmond three times and has clocked an astounding 12,011 laps. The No. 11 driver wouldn’t say that veteran experience secured the victory, but he did acknowledge the technicalities of the .75-mile track.
“It’s tough to really draw a parallel to that,” Hamlin said. “When you have so many laps at a track like this that is so technical, even though it doesn’t look technical it is, usually with track knowledge, it does matter at this track.”
Denny Hamlin said being a NASCAR veteran certainly helps if the car is not performing up to standards
Second-place finisher Kevin Harvick said his team’s finish also felt good, both for morale and for strategy moving forward. Harvick used a similar tire strategy to secure the Top-5 finish.
“We needed a data point, something, a good run to kind of balance ourselves on other tracks. Obviously, I think we got it here,” Harvick said. “I’m just really proud of everyone on our (team) for just staying in there and having a great strategy and doing everything that they did all day. It was really the first clean day that we’ve had all year.”
In a strategy similar to Byron, Martin Truex, Jr., held on for a fourth-place finish on fading tires.
“At the end there, I think we just tried to gamble on beating the 24 (Byron) and then he ended up doing our strategy and we both screwed up,” Truex said. “Heads up the other way, I think we had the best car, but it doesn’t matter.”
Toyota as a manufacturer has struggled to find speed in the opening six races of the NASCAR schedule, so the strong finishes from Hamlin, Harvick, and Truex (all over 40 years old) suggest really savvy driving at Richmond.
“When our car is not performing how we need it to perform, we can do things to manipulate it, to maximize lap times to at least put us in the game,” Hamlin said. “I think being a veteran in the sport probably helps in those instances.”