RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Denny Hamlin returned from last week’s injury-shortened weekend and led almost from start to finish Friday night to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway.
Hamlin led the first 154 laps after starting on the pole. He relinquished the lead for one lap to Brian Scott during a series of green-flag pit stops, and to Elliott Sadler during another green flag stop late in the race, but both times regained the lead on the following lap. The Virginia driver routinely built leads of several seconds on the 0.75-mile oval and won by 3.719 seconds.
“It’s been a great day obviously right from the very start,” Hamlin said. “Our car had some great speed and that’s the key to victory. It’s not tricks or anything like that. It’s just you’ve got to have a fast car.
“They gave me something special tonight and we were able to dominate with it. You don’t get these cars often.”
The victory was Hamlin’s 12th in the series and third at Richmond. Following up on Kyle Busch’s wire-to-wire victory for Joe Gibbs Racing in the series last September, the JGR teams have led 498 of the last 500 laps run in the series at RIR.
It also was Toyota’s 100th victory in 281 races since the manufacturer joined the series in 2007.
The victory also capped a remarkable return for Hamlin, who started the race last weekend at Bristol, then turned the car over to NASCAR novice Erik Jones during a rain-delay because he was experiencing neck and back pain.
But he pronounced himself “100 percent” Friday at the track just 15 miles from where he grew up, and announced his return by winning the pole for the Xfinity race and then qualifying second for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race.
The superiority of his car, Hamlin said, was evident throughout, even when he struggled on restarts.
“I knew if I could get through the first five laps of a restart, I would be able to set the pace,” he said.
The race also was the second dominant performance in the series in a row, Joey Logano having led wire-to-wire to win the 300-lap race last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the butt-whooping now,” Logano joked afterward. He started second and ran in the top five all night, but said “We were just a second-place car. Straight up, that’s where we were. I couldn’t catch him.”
Regan Smith was third, followed by Jones and Chase Elliott.
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