Denny Hamlin vaults to first Cup victory of the year at Richmond

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Denny Hamlin stormed past William Byron with five laps to go to snag the Cup Series win Sunday at Richmond Raceway.

Hamlin had yet to score a top-10 finish through the season’s first six races, but a strategy call by crew chief Chris Gabehart brought the No. 11 Toyota to pit road for fresh tires at Lap 354, later than anyone else in the field.

Running fourth with 20 laps to go, Hamlin erased what was then a 10.628-second deficit to race leader Byron, who last pitted at Lap 311 and had burnt up his tires. The final 137 laps ran caution-free, allowing a multitude of different pit strategies to unfold in the race’s late stages.

MORE: Richmond results, points

MORE: What drivers said

The victory puts Toyota back in the winner’s circle for the first time since Bubba Wallace won at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2021.

“Great strategy there,” Hamlin told FOX Sports. “Drove as hard as I could. Just so proud of this whole FedEx Camry team, man, just never giving up.”

On a similar strategy, Kevin Harvick charged to second and finished 0.552 seconds behind Hamlin for his first top five of the season. Completing the top five were Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Rounding out the top 10 were Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.

Byron led a career-best 122 laps, including a 71-lap stretch that spanned Laps 325-395. But with older tires, Byron, who won two weeks ago at Atlanta, was unable to fend off Hamlin’s charge.

Truex won Stage 2 and looked to have one of the cars to beat, leading 80 laps Sunday. The No. 19 team scored the best average running position at 3.88, according to NASCAR’s loop-data statistics. But the No. 19 was caught off-guard by Byron’s attempt to go the final 89 laps without pitting. And even then, Truex had nothing to hold off Hamlin, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.

Blaney, who began the race from the pole, led the opening 128 laps at what has statistically been his worse track. But after losing the lead during a sequence of pit stops, the No. 12 Ford never regained the top spot despite leading the most laps.

Busch was running sixth late in the race but incurred a penalty in the final stage. An earlier pit-road miscue resulted in a crew member placing tape on the grille of his No. 18 Toyota. While that was common practice in previous generations of NASCAR, tape on the grille is now outlawed. Busch served the stop-and-go penalty at Lap 351 and rallied for a ninth-place finish.

Kurt Busch brought out the first of five cautions Sunday at Lap 11 when fuel pick-up issues brought his car to a halt on the backstretch. The No. 45 team repaired the issue in the garage area but Busch finished 35th, 109 laps down.

Stage 2 ran caution-free, but two quick cautions at the beginning of Stage 3 began to shake up some teams’ strategy plans.

Cody Ware was sent into the Turn 2 wall after contact from Erik Jones at Lap 246. Ten laps later, Austin Cindric was sent spinning down the backstretch after contact between Ty Dillon and Cole Custer sent Custer into Cindric. Cindric avoided further contact and finished 20th.

There were no issues in post-race inspection. The Nos. 19 and 99 cars will be taken to NASCAR’s R&D Center for further teardown.

Stage 1 winner: Ryan Blaney

Stage 2 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Who had a good race: Christopher Bell scored his second consecutive top-10 finish Sunday, ending the day sixth to follow up a third-place effort one week ago at Circuit of the Americas. Bell scored the third-best average running position at Richmond (5.54) and led a career-best 63 laps, nearly doubling his previous best of 32. … A 13th-place effort for Brad Keselowski may not sound like much for the 2012 Cup champion, but after dismal showings at the exhibition race at the quarter-mile track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway, it was a good turnaround for the No. 6 team. At the ¾-mile Richmond, Keselowski scored points in both stages for the first time since the Daytona 500.

Who had a bad race: Aric Almirola finished 21st Sunday and was never a factor at Richmond. After scoring four straight finishes of 12th or better to start the season, Almirola now has three consecutive finishes of 19th or worse. … Bubba Wallace struggled all weekend, including a spin in practice, en route to a 26th-place finish, three laps down.

Noteable: Kyle Larson’s fifth-place finish ends a streak of three straight finishes outside the top 25. The defending series champion earned his third top-five of the season, adding to a win at Auto Club and a runner-up finish at Las Vegas. … Hamlin’s 47th career victory ranks him 17th in all-time wins and ends a 12-race streak of races won by drivers age 30 or younger.

Next race: The series shifts to Martinsville Speedway on April 8 for the first Saturday night race of the season (7 p.m. ET, FS1).

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson is building a team and pointing to Le Mans

Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to track

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”