Sunday, September 11, 2016

Denny Hamlin wins Federated Auto Parts 400 at Home Track

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
by Carol D'Agostino

All eyes were on the Chase bubble drivers Saturday night as the final regular season NASCAR Sprint Cup race ran at Richmond International Raceway. The pre-race story lines focused on drivers like Jamie McMurray who were in the Chase field by points, and those on the outside like Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Blaney.

As the laps clicked by, 32 pit road penalties and a record number of cautions (16) were recorded. The most serious caution was an eight-car fiery wreck on Lap 364 which red-flagged the race for 20 minutes, 23 seconds. The incident occurred when the Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman made contact, ending Newman's playoff hopes. 

In the end, Virginia native Denny Hamlin, who started on the pole, took the checkered flag. It was Hamlin’s 29th victory in 388 Cup Series races and his third win in 21 Richmond starts. The hometown win gives Hamlin his third win and 15th top-10 finish in 2016.

Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps with 193, though the race winner was close behind, leading 189 circuits. Despite having a dominant car all evening, the closing laps were nerve-racking for Hamlin.

“I was literally counting the seconds down knowing I needed 20 more seconds, 15 more seconds until just get to the white, then I was going to be fine," Hamlin said. "I saw smoke up ahead, and knew there was an issue. But I definitely didn't want to see it because I knew with the shortage of tires, it was just going to be interesting to see how it played out. I thought for sure we were going to have to come to pit.  But he (crew chief Mike Wheeler) knew how many cars that were going to stay out behind us and the buffer we were going to have and made the right call there."

Kyle Larson, who earned his first Sprint Cup win in August at Michigan, finished second, posting his first top-10 finish at Richmond, while Martin Truex Jr. finished third, for his seventh top 10 at the track.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Chris Buescher and Chase Elliott finished 24th and 19th, respectively. Ironically these drivers became the first rookies to make the playoffs since Denny Hamlin did it in 2006.

For full Federated Auto Parts 400 race results, click here.

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. For the full Round One Chase grid: http://www.nascar.com/grid.html

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

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