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At the margins, Denny Hamlin wins the NASCAR Cup race at Richmond

Pit stops, restarts and into Turn 1

NASCAR: Toyota Owners 400
Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

This changes everything

It’s on the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR clichés right up there with rubbin is racin, if you ain’t cheatin, you ain’t trying and if you ain’t first, you’re last.

But on Sunday night at Richmond Raceway, the caution with a lap and a half to go literally changed everything as Martin Truex was about 10 seconds away from taking the white flag and his first victory of the season over Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.

Instead, the race was decided on pit road and the restart zone, or arguably just before the latter.

11: 8.99 second pit stop
19: 10.29 second pit stop
5: 9.39 second pit stop
22: 10.29 second pit stop

“Tonight was them, for sure,” Hamlin said.

The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team has been consistently the best on pit road every week this season and they delivered once again by gaining two spots to get Hamlin out ahead of Truex and Logano but then came the restart.

Hamlin appeared to throttle up before the restart zone, gaining the advantage over Truex into Turn 1, but also washed up the corner to stall out his teammate. Hamlin won the race but infuriated Truex on multiple levels — for the restart and for the race craft.

“Unfortunately, this has happened to us a few times at Richmond over the years, lead the whole race and some dumbass move brought out a caution coming to the white flag and ruins our whole night … Came in with the lead and come out second to the fastest crew on pit road is a tough one to swallow. We still could have raced for it but got used up on the restart.”

Truex voiced his displeasure after the checkered flag by repeatedly driving into the back of Hamlin.

“I feel like I got used up by (Hamlin) going int (Turn) 1 and I didn’t appreciate a teammate racing me like that,” Truex said. “I wish he would have given me a chance. That’s the way it is.”

In addition to that, Truex also accused Hamlin of jumping the restart, something that was cleared by NASCAR and vice president of competition Elton Sawyer.

“We reviewed that,” Sawyer said. “We looked at it. Obviously, the 11 was the control vehicle. It was awful close but we deemed it to be a good restart.”

Basically, Hamlin bluffed race control to make a decision it tends to not to make in those situations. But he also feels like he had to because the drivers behind him were lagging back in the attempt to snooker him.

“Yeah, I mean, I went right at it, for sure,” Hamlin said. “I did that because I saw those guys rolling to me. (Logano) was laying back. (Truex) was rolling a couple miles an hour quicker than I was. I wasn’t going to let them have an advantage that my team earned on pit road.

“Certainly, made sure I went to my nose, got there. But I took off right away. Still, we were side by side down the water into turn one.”

And then, when they went into Turn 1, Hamlin … characteristically … didn’t give an inch and team owner Joe Gibbs knows he’s going to have to mediate that one between his No. 11 and No. 19 teams during their Monday morning debrief.  

“To have a caution, we go that far, with three laps to go, it was devastating,” Gibbs said. “We came out of there, came out second on the pit stop.

“Honestly, that’s what I was trying to relate to everybody. You’re happy for Denny certainly and everything that happened tonight for him, but then you see Martin, how hard he fought for this, how much he wanted it.

“That’s part of our sport. It’s really hard. You see these guys when it gets down towards the end of these races, they’re going for it because they are really hard to win. You can’t have that happen, particularly if you got good cars, good drivers. They all want it. They want it for their sponsor. They want it for themselves, their career.

“You really feel for them when they go through a night like Martin went through this night. You just feel for them.”

But really, all the noise about the restart aside, the race was won on pit road by the week in and week out best group in NASCAR right now.

Dylan Dowell, Tire Carrier
Ken Purcell, Fueler
AJ Rosini, Front Changer
Deven Youker, Rear Changer
‘Joel B’ Bouagnon, Jack

The irony is that what is currently the No. 11 pit crew primarily came from the No. 19 team but were hand picked by Hamlin.

“They were on Martin’s team a few years ago, but they were young and making a lot of mistakes that first year. The pit crews and the drivers got together and they wanted to make changes,” Hamlin said. “I ended up with those guys at really the right time, right when they were starting to all click on all cylinders.”

Hamlin says the three years of chemistry, the three years of learning together, all goes towards being considerably better than everyone else right now.

“There’s a lot to it when you can get people working together,” Hamlin said. “It’s no different than mine and Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) relationship. Over time you get to understanding each other, you know their next move.

“I think certainly with a pit crew that’s got a lot of choreographed stuff that they have to do, everyone’s watching each other’s toes, not stepping on each other, having that group working together for so long, it’s starting to show what it can do.”

Hamlin said he plays a role there too, of course.

“Me as a driver, doing my job with my pit road speed, how I enter the box, how I exit the box, all that really mattered,” Hamlin said.

“I knew about halfway through the stop when they dropped the jack on the right side in about three and a half seconds, I thought, ‘Oh, boy, this is going to be a fast one.’ I knew it was going to be really close.”

Hamlin was hyper-focused on not stalling the car off the clutch.

“This is certainly the new age NASCAR of how you can win races because it is so equal on the racetrack that really the pit crew is the ones that make a difference when everyone is running the same speed,” he said.

All told, this is his second win of the season following Bristol two weeks ago, and his third if you count the preseason Clash at the Coliseum, and he has the best pit crew, arguably the best crew chief in Gabehart and all the momentum in the world.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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