With the way that teams were rolling the dice in the closing stages of Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, you’d think we were racing in the heart of Las Vegas.
In the end, it was Chesterfield, Virginia-native Denny Hamlin who captured the victory in the 400-lap contest, the 47th of his NASCAR Cup Series career, and his fourth at the three-quarter-mile facility.
The race’s intense final laps were a byproduct of three different strategies meshing together on the track, which put together a riveting four-car battle for the victory between William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, and race-winner Denny Hamlin.
Ultimately, it came down to the wire between the four race-winning drivers, with it looking like each driver was the favorite to capture the victory, at different points throughout the run.
James Small, crew chief on Martin Truex Jr’s No. 19 — opted to only pit his driver once in the race’s final green-flag run, which was *supposed* to put the NASCAR Cup Series champion on defense against teams electing to pit twice.
Of course, things didn’t exactly work as planned, with William Byron and Rudy Fugle electing to make their final pit stop with 90 laps left in the event, which at the time, made it look like the team was planning to stop twice in the final run.
As a result, Truex quickly wore his tires out while trying to catch Byron, mitigating the advantage that was gained from pitting 13 laps later than the Hendrick Motorsports team.
The cat-and-mouse game between Byron and Truex gave Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick – the race’s top-two finishers — the opportunity to capitalize, gaining a whopping 16=plus seconds over the course of the final 45 laps, to put themselves in position to win.
With five laps to go, Hamlin was able to breeze by the No. 24 entering turn three, which ended up being the final lead change of the afternoon. The 41-year-old would still have to defend against Kevin Harvick, on a 50-race winless streak, using lap traffic to his advantage to cross the start-finish line with the victory.
Byron and Truex, who both had a shot to win in the closing laps, ended up third and fourth, with Kyle Larson rounding out the top five. Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, and Austin Dillon rounded out the top-10.
After the seventh race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are tied at the top of the point standings, with Martin Truex Jr, William Byron, and Joey Logano rounding out the top five.