Denny Hamlin wins at Richmond
RICHMOND, Va. -- Make it two wins in two nights for Denny Hamlin at his home track.
Hamlin grabbed the lead for the first time 44 laps into the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Friday night and dominated the rest of the 250-lap race.
He lost the lead briefly when he pitted under a green flag, again when Aric Almirola got underneath him after the first restart and then grabbed it back six laps later for good.
The victory is the 11th of Hamlin's career in the Nationwide Series and came one night after he passed Kyle Busch on the last lap to win his charity race at the track.
After arriving at Richmond 17th in points in the Sprint Cup Series and hoping to jump start his season, Hamlin said he hopes the momentum of two victories means the start of something.
"It's one big snowball that's rolling and rolling," he said. "Hopefully it keeps going."
Unlike the charity race, in which Hamlin needed all 75 laps to rally from starting at the back of the field, he was 11th on the starting grid and enjoyed huge leads most of the night.
But like Busch, who ran out of gas before the finish Thursday, Hamlin was cutting it close, prompting crew chief Adam Stevens to implore him to save fuel as he sought his first victory.
"It's hard to tell a driver, 'Slow down! Slow down!'" Hamlin said. "It's completely out of our mentality, but he had a plan. He knew we were right there on the number. I had a feeling we were going to make it. I felt pretty confident, but man, it's great to win again at Richmond."
He led 199 of the 251 laps and made it look too easy every time he had the chance.
When Kelly Bires' spun into the Turn 4 wall for the first caution on lap 124, Hamlin was leading by 8 seconds. And when he opened a lead of nearly 6 seconds over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with under 30 laps to go, Hamlin was able to try to save fuel to make it to the checkered flag.
Stenhouse, however, brought out the second caution when he ran out of gas himself on lap 243, and when Almirola also ran out of gas behind him, Hamlin opted to pit to be safe.
On the restart on lap 250, he had Paul Menard behind him, followed by points leader Justin Allgaier. Hamlin easily outran Menard on the first lap under green and was already cruising when a crash in the fourth turn brought out another caution, clinching Hamlin's victory.
With only three cars on the lead lap, Menard said he was "just going to dive-bomb it into One" trying to pass Hamlin on the final lap, but the caution took that option away.
"He just had a better restart than me, basically," Menard said about Hamlin, adding that he wasn't so sure Hamlin's fuel would have lasted had the race finished without the caution.
It the Chesterfield native's second at the track 15 miles from his hometown.
Menard was second, followed by Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Brad Keselowski. The five were the only cars still on the lead lap at the finish, in part because Almirola, who crossed the finish line fifth, was penalized for speeding on pit road and dropped to 14th overall.
Sadler, a Virginia native from Emporia who has never run well at the track also considered his home course, credited team owner Kevin Harvick with giving him very helpful advice.
"He said, 'Look, this is what I want you to do, this is how I want you to run, this is what I want you to concentrate on,' and he saved my butt. I ran so much better tonight," Sadler said.
Stenhouse, who shared the points lead with Allgaier coming into the race, wound up 21st.
"We hated to see Ricky have the trouble he had tonight," said Allgaier, who leads No. 2 Sadler by six points. "You never want to take something on somebody else's misfortune."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press