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

1 Comment

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).

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move


NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash


NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

MORE: Toyota looking to expand its NASCAR presence

Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

MORE: Surveying key race dates for 2023

4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

MORE: Legacy MC looking to make a leap forward

9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.




SunnyD to sponsor Kevin Harvick in two races, Riley Herbst in Daytona 500


Kevin Harvick has picked up a sponsor for the new season, and Riley Herbst has picked up a ride in the Daytona 500.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that orange drink SunnyD will be the primary sponsor for Harvick’s No. 4 Ford at Darlington Raceway (May 14) and Kansas Speedway (Sept. 10).

SunnyD also will be the sponsor for Herbst as he joins the entry list for the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing car. The orange drink also will be an associate sponsor for Herbst in the No. 98 Xfinity car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

The 2023 season will be Harvick’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

MORE: Toyota looking to expand its presence in NASCAR

The Daytona 500 will mark Herbst’s first Cup Series start. The 24-year-old native of Las Vegas has made 109 Xfinity Series starts.

“It’s great to have Riley making his first NASCAR Cup Series start with RWR and be a part of the next step in his career,” said team owner Rick Ware in a statement released by the team.

“As a kid you always dream of being able to race in the Daytona 500, and I’m able to accomplish that with Rick Ware Racing,” Herbst said. “It’s such a big event and for it to be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience.”



RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors


RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).