Hamlin uses late surge to grab Nationwide win in Richmond

Updated: May 4, 2008, 12:18 AM ET
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- Local favorite Denny Hamlin used a late pit stop for tires to foil the strategy of fellow NASCAR stars Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, blowing by them to win the Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Friday night.

Harvick and Edwards dominated the race all night, but when the sixth caution flew with 22 laps to go, Hamlin gave up his fourth-place position to head to pit road for tires. When everyone behind him followed, leaving Harvick, Edwards and No. 3 Mike Bliss as the only cars still out on the track, Hamlin emerged still running fourth and with brand new traction.

[+] EnlargeDenny Hamlin
AP Photo/Steve HelberDenny Hamlin, who also won the pole for Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race, called Friday's Nationwide victory the biggest of his career.

He didn't waste any time, blowing by Bliss and then Edwards on lap 241, the first after another restart, and then ducking underneath Harvick at the start-finish line on lap 242.

Hamlin quickly built a huge lead, but when another caution came out with three laps left, it allowed Kyle Busch to get right up on Hamlin's bumper for a two-lap dash to the finish.

It didn't matter, and the resident of nearby Chesterfield again pulled away with ease for his sixth career victory in the series and his first at the track 15 miles from his home.

"It's unbelievable," Hamlin said after climbing from his Toyota in a storm of confetti in Victory Lane. "This is my biggest win, Cup, anything. It doesn't matter. This is my biggest win by far. It means a lot to finally break through in Richmond."

Earlier Friday, Hamlin also won the pole for Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race and said winning the pole at his home track was like winning a race anywhere else.

The victory was also the third in a row in the series for the No. 20 car fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hamlin was the third different driver to win in the Camry. Kyle Busch won in the car in Mexico, and Tony Stewart won in it last week at Talladega.

Harvick wound up second, followed by Busch, David Ragan and Steve Wallace.

Series points leader Clint Bowyer was never a factor in the race, finishing ninth, and saw Edwards close to within nine in the standings. Busch is third, just 12 off the pace.

Busch and Wallace had words after Wallace nudged Busch out of the way on the last lap and then went wide as Busch passed him back. They exchanged sharp barbs when it was over.

"I basically told him if you mess with a bull, you're going to get the horns, and then he wanted to grab my helmet, which is pretty childish," Busch said of his confrontation with Wallace at Wallace's car. "If he wants to play those games, he's going to get hurt."

Wallace said he didn't know what Busch was saying during their confrontation.

"He's just a little girl about it. I don't know. I think it's pretty bad when they call driver introductions and everybody in the grandstand boos you. He's a sore loser," he said.

For most of the night, it looked like a two-car race.

Harvick edged Edwards off pit road with 107 laps to go and was dominant until the sixth of eight cautions came with 22 laps to go, and he, Edwards and Bliss stayed out.

"I've been caught on both sides of that," he said of the strategy call. "I figured more would stay out, and it only wound up being three or four."

Edwards, the defending series champ, wound up seventh, just behind David Stremme.

"They had like 10 cars between us and the guy behind us, so they all got time to think about what they were going to do," Edwards said of the decision to pit. "By watching the leaders stay out, it's an easy decision then. I should have pitted. It's just a mistake."

Pole-sitter Kasey Kahne led the first 17 laps before Edwards, who started second, passed for the top spot. He kept it until the leaders headed for the pits after a spin in the second turn, seeing a lead of more than 2.6 seconds over Harvick evaporate in a cloud of smoke.

Shortly thereafter, Harvick grabbed the lead by beating Edwards off pit road.

Kahne, meanwhile, was running in the top 10 when he spun with 84 laps to go.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press