Hamlin Gets His Name On The Board At Richmond
Ahead of the Sunday race, Denny Hamlin was considered as one of the drivers that could be a threat, but with no results to confirm that. He hadn’t even had so much as a top-10 finish this season, let alone contended for a single race win at any point of the 2022 season.
But things turned around for him at Richmond, where he – thanks to a long green-flag run and the right strategy – finally broke his six-race dry streak and collected his first victory of the season at his home track. And he did in style.
Most of his success is thanks to his crew’s tire strategy, right over a long green-flag run, which allowed Hamlin to run down and pass William Byron for the lead with five laps remaining. And he then held off Kevin Harvick, who was getting ready to steal the spotlight on the final lap.
By winning the Toyota Owners 400, Hamlin has locked in the 47th victory of his career. Moreover, his success this weekend marks the first time a driver older than 30 won the race – since the fall Las Vegas race in 2021, which was won by no other than Hamlin.
“Great strategy there. Just drove as hard as I could,” said Hamlin.
“We needed a data point. We needed something, a good run, to kind of balance ourselves on other tracks. Obviously, I think we got it here.”
Hamlin can finally breathe easy with one win under his belt, but his job is far from over. His start to the 2022 season was abysmal, to say the least, with three DNFs over the first six races and not a single finish inside the top-13, so he has a lot of catching up to do.
A Careful Approach
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series has proven to be quite a chaotic one so far, with the first six races of the year featuring more cautions than many expected to see. However, Richmond’s attrition rate was rather low, as the yellow flag flew only five times.
This, combined with Richmond’s high tire wear, gave away to multiple strategy plays that helped shake up the running order throughout the day – with a season-high four cycles of green-flag pit stops.
At the start of Stage 2, the teams started picking between trying to make it to the end on two or just one pit stop, effectively leaving the teams with the choice between fresh tires and track position. Byron chose the latter, as he was able to take the lead and held onto it on tires with more than 70 laps on them.
But while Byron has done a solid job on the weekend, his strategy has proven not to be optimal. Rather it was fresh rubber that won on the day, as Hamlin and Harvick were able to make up the lost seconds on new tires to catch up to Byron and duke it out for the race victory, leaving the no.24 in the back and with a bronze medal.
Phoenix. Moreover, had Allmendinger won, it would have marked the first time he would have won both the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series races in one weekend, having already celebrated on COTA a day prior.
The Old Timers Still Got It
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series has proven to be an exciting one for many reasons.
Not only did we see more cautions than many years before, but the start to the 2022 season also saw a record 12-straight Cup races had been won by drivers under the age of 30, and four of those included first-time winners. However, in Richmond, things turned upside down.
Young drivers still performed admirably well, leading 314 of 400 laps, including Ryan Blaney, who led the race-high 128 laps, followed by Byron (122) and Christopher Bell (63). But in the end, it was the older, more experienced drivers who prevailed, namely the 41-year-old Hamlin and 46-year-old Harvick, who claimed the top two spots.
The two were a class above everyone else in the latter stages of the race, and it even seemed like the older, Harvick, would come out ahead. But things did not go as planned for the 46-year-old, who had to admit defeat to Hamlin and settle with a runner-up finish.
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Kevin Harvick’s runner-up finish marks his fourth silver medal since he last won a race at Bristol in the fall of 2020. He is now on a 50-race dry streak, which nearly ended this weekend, but not quite.
By winning the Toyota Owners 400, Hamlin secured his 47th-career victory and moved out of a tie with Buck Baker to take the sole position of 17th on the NASCAR all-time win list.
Hamlin now has to catch up with Herb Thomas (48 wins), Tony Steward (49), and Junior Johnson and Ned Jarret, who are tied in 14th place with 50 wins.
Ryan Blaney ended the Sunday race in seventh place, but he has led 128 laps, marking the 10th time he has led 100 or more laps in a single NASCAR Cup Series race. Unfortunately, he has yet to earn his first 2022 victory.
Bell also set a personal milestone with his performance in Richmond. He led for 63 laps, almost doubling his previous record of laps led in a single race (32). Moreover, Bell claimed his second top-10 finish in a row with his sixth-place finish.
Harrison Burton finished the race in 18th and was the best-performing rookie at Toyota Owners 400. With that, he has claimed his second consecutive top-20 finish (after 17th at COTA).
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series will continue on Sunday, April 10, with the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia.
* All odds provided by Action247 Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
**All views expressed are my own. My picks are my own and are not a guarantee, bet at your own risk.