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Denny Hamlin chases down first win of NASCAR Cup season at Richmond

Sportsnaut
Apr 3, 2022; Richmond, Virginia, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia native Denny Hamlin ran down William Byron and passed him with five laps to go as Toyota won its first race this season in the Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway.

At his home track, Hamlin put his Joe Gibbs Racing Camry into victory lane for the fourth time at Richmond and the 47th time in his career. It was his first top-10 finish of 2022, and he became the seventh different winner in seven Cup events.

Using off-sequence pit stops, Byron appeared to be on the brink of becoming the season’s first repeat winner, but he couldn’t hold a six-second advantage with 50 laps left while racing on the field’s oldest set of tires after the final round of pit stops.

Hamlin, who grew up in Chesterfield, Va., beat Kevin Harvick by .552 seconds. Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five in the 400-lap race that featured five cautions.

“I just drove as hard as I could,” Hamlin said. “(The No. 11 pit crew) got this car right there toward the end. Just unbelievable.

“We needed a data point, we needed something — a good run — to kind of balance ourselves on other tracks. Obviously, I think we got it here.”

In NASCAR’s first short-track race, Ryan Blaney led the 37-car field to the green flag after posting his third top qualifying speed in seven races. Blaney’s Ford topped all 70 laps in the first stage, smoothly negotiating his way around the 3/4-mile short track.

He continued to easily pace the way around the modestly-banked speedway until finally relinquishing the lead on Lap 130 when he pitted under green-flag conditions.

However, the race continued without incident or caution — which historically occurs at the Virginia facility — and Christopher Bell led 26 laps before pitting and turning the lead over to Truex on Lap 156.

On 20-lap fresher tires, Truex — who had led just 17 laps through six races — passed Bell and captured the caution-free Stage 2, his third stage win of 2022 and fifth career at the speedway.

With 134 laps remaining, Byron stayed out after the fifth caution and led the restart. He and Truex swapped the lead under green-flag stops, and Byron found himself up front again with 76 circuits left.

On tires that were 14 laps fresher, Truex trailed Byron by six seconds with 50 laps remaining, then cut the deficit to 3 1/2 seconds 15 laps later as Hamlin and Harvick charged through the field.

“It’s really the first clean day that we’ve had all year,” said Harvick, whose runner-up finish was his best in 2022. “The cars have been fast, and we had a shot there at the end.

“I just wanted to be close enough at the white (flag) to take a swipe at him, but the lapped cars kind of got in the way and I lost a little bit of ground.”

–Field Level Media