NASCAR: Denny Hamlin swipes a win at Richmond after a late caution

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - MARCH 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on March 31, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin already has two NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2024. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) (Jonathan Bachman via Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin stole an Easter victory at Richmond on Sunday night.

Hamlin was third when a caution came out with less than two laps to go for a half-spin by Kyle Larson off Bubba Wallace’s bumper. A nine-second pit stop during the ensuing caution flag got Hamlin out of the pits first and he held on over the final two laps of the extended race for his second win of the season.

“This is a team win for sure,” Hamlin said after climbing from his car. “This trophy needs to go to each of the pit crew members”

Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. looked well on his way to a win when the caution came out for Larson’s slide. But he exited the pits in second place and didn’t have anything for Hamlin in overtime. Truex ended up finishing fourth behind Joey Logano in second and Larson in third.

“He jumped the start and just used me up in Turn 1,” Truex said of Hamlin.

It's hard to argue against Truex's point. Look at Hamlin accelerating away from Truex and everyone else before the restart zone at the end of this clip.

Ultimately, it was a brilliant move by Hamlin. By going early, he caught Truex off-guard and forced NASCAR to make a judgment call when it has shown it can be lenient when it comes to restart gamesmanship. NASCAR did not review the restart or penalize Hamlin.

And yes, Larson finished third after spinning to cause the final caution. He was in the top five when he spun and only fell to sixth on the spin. He had the No. 1 pit stall after qualifying first for the race, and exited pit road in fourth before the final restart.

“I will take a third after what could have been a lot worse on the frontstretch,” Larson said.

Truex was visibly angry at the end of the race based on the way he drove his car. He led a race-high 228 of 407 laps and door-slammed Larson after they bounced off each other at the finish line. He then drove into Hamlin’s bumper on the cool-down lap before he went to pit lane.

It’s understandable why Truex was upset. He had the race’s best car and had the race in hand before the caution. Logano had cut Truex’s lead to less than a second with 10 laps to go, but wasn’t in striking position as the laps wound down.

The win would have been the 35th of Truex’s career. Instead, Hamlin got to celebrate his 53rd win and his fifth at his home track.

An uneventful race

The race began as the first NASCAR Cup Series points race to begin with rain tires on an oval. It rained at Richmond for most of the day and NASCAR had teams strap on rain tires for the start of the race with a track that wasn’t fully dry.

The racing didn’t look too much different with rain tires on a damp track than it did on a dry track with slick tires. The only major difference came on pit road. A competition caution was called on lap 30, but NASCAR declared that pit stops wouldn’t be live. The running order entering the pits was the running order leaving the pits.

With live pit stops resuming after the lap 70 conclusion of the first stage, the race was pretty uneventful. The first real caution of the day came on lap 63 when Josh Berry bumped Daniel Suarez into a slide. After that, the only non-stage caution of the race before Larson’s slide came on lap 169 when Kyle Busch bumped the wall in an incident that didn’t merit a yellow flag.

Busch’s wall touch ruined a potential strategy battle in the second stage as some teams opted for a one-stop strategy in the stage and others tried to cut the stage into thirds. The caution put everyone on the same strategy and negated any tire differences.

Race results

1. Denny Hamlin

2. Joey Logano

3. Kyle Larson

4. Martin Truex Jr.

5. Chase Elliott

6. Christopher Bell

7. William Byron

8. Brad Keselowski

9. Chris Buescher

10. Tyler Reddick

11. Josh Berry

12. Noah Gragson

13. Bubba Wallace

14. Erik Jones

15. Ross Chastain

16. Ty Gibbs

17. Alex Bowman

18. Chase Briscoe

19. Ryan Blakey

20. Kyle Busch

21. Todd Gilliland

22. Daniel Suarez

23. Austin Cindric

24. Austin Dillon

25. John Hunter Nemechek

26. Michael McDowell

27. Carson Hocevar

28. Ryan Preece

29. Ty Dillon

30. Daniel Hemric

31. Kaz Grala

32. Justin Haley

33. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

34. Harrison Burton

35. Zane Smith

36. Corey LaJoie