As with most NASCAR events, this Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 in the Richmond Raceway was a nail-biter. So far, the 2022 Cup Series season has been a year for the youngsters. The under 30 crowd was building an impressive streak, scoring all six wins in the first six races of the season. Then came Richmond, however, where Denny Hamlin took a victory for the vets.
Young drivers like William Byron still put forth an outstanding effort, but in the end, scoring the checkered flag in the 0.75-mile short track required an experienced hand. With 46 laps remaining, crew chief Chris Gabehart made the clever call: pit early.
The veteran move paid off. With fresh tires beneath his No. 11 Toyota Camry, Denny Hamlin had the edge he needed to overcome Byron. And with just five laps left, Hamlin edged in front of William Byron, whose crew took the opposite approach, opting for an attempt to maintain lead position rather than exchanging the young driver’s worn 76-lap tires.
NASCAR Driver Denny Hamlin Talks Win at Richmond Raceway
Though William Byron still did well at Richmond, scoring third place in the short track, it was Hamlin who took the checkered flag. Now, there’s no question that younger drivers like William Byron and Ryan Blaney are talented. However, nothing beats experience. And with over 12,000 laps in Cup Series races around Richmond, Denny Hamlin’s experience level is off the charts.
“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.”
“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 continued. “I think being a veteran in the sport probably helps in those instances.”
The early pit proved a highly effective strategy, as fellow NASCAR veteran, Kevin Harvick, followed Hamlin’s approach and finished second. Denny Hamlin’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr, however, took a chance with William Byron’s strategy and received a fourth place finish as a result.
“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.”