Race Report — Richmond: Hamlin and Toyota Get First Win of 2022 Season

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — APRIL 3, 2022
By Bob Francis, Go Full Throttle Managing Editor

Tire strategy and specifically the timing of when to pit in the closing laps of the Toyota Owners 400 by Chris Gabehart, Crew Chief for Denny Hamlin and the Joe Gibbs Racing № 11 FedEx Toyota, secured the win. Hamlin took the lead from Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron (№ 24 Liberty University Chevrolet) with five laps remaining and held off the field for a 0.552-seconds victory over Kevin Harvick. It was Hamlin and Toyota’s first win of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season and his fourth victory at Richmond Raceway- the track where he grew up watching NASCAR.

Credit: RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — APRIL 03: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, races William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, in the closing laps of the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

JGR Continues to “Own” Richmond Raceway
The drought has ended! After watching Ford and Chevrolet take every win so far this season, the Toyota camp was back in Victory Lane at Richmond. Are we surprised? Probably not, as it was the sixth win for the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team in the last eight races at the Richmond 0.75-mile track — the 18th in the team‘s history there. And it is the third consecutive race where all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished in the top 10.
P1 — Denny Hamlin, FedEx № 11
P4 — Martin Truex Jr, Auto-Owners Insurance № 19
P6 — Christopher Bell, SiriusXM № 20
P9—Kyle Busch, Mars Crunchy Cookie № 18

In post-race interviews Denny Hamlin was quick to place the win in perspective- “I just drove as hard as I could,” said Hamlin, who has had a difficult start to the season, ranked 20th in points coming into the Richmond race. “So proud of this whole FedEx Camry team, they just never gave up… There was no doubt in my mind, maybe just a little, but they got this car right there towards the end,” Hamlin continued. “Wow, this is just unbelievable. We needed a data point, something, a good run to kind of balance ourselves on other tracks. Obviously, I think we got it here.”

Credit: RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — APRIL 03: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, races during the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Call: New tires with 47 laps to go
Chris Gabehart, Crew Chief for Denny Hamlin, brought the Joe Gibbs Racing № 11 FedEx Toyota to Pit Road for fuel and new tires with 47 laps to go. Hamlin was almost 30 seconds behind race leader William Byron, but with fresh tires Hamlin was able to work his way through the field, catching his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. with six laps to go, and eventually caching Byron and his № 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team who opted to stay out on older tires. Another car that pitted around the same time as Hamlin was the № 4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick who also used his fresher tires to work past both Byron and Truex for a P2 finish, his best finish of the season. “Really it‘s the first clean day we‘ve had all year,” Harvick said. “The cars have been fast and we had a shot there at the end just, I wanted to be close enough at the white [flag] to just take a swipe at him but the lapped cars got in the way and I lost a little bit of ground. Still a great day for us and hopefully a little bit of momentum.”

Kevin Harvick № 4 Stewart Haas Ford Mustang (Image Credit: Jacob Kupferman — Getty Images)

Truex Jr was Knocking on the Door
In another good sign for Toyota fans, Martin Truex Jr also had a solid day and was contending for the win in the final stage. Truex has three wins in the last five Richmond races, ended up P4, followed by reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, driver of the № 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Another JGR driver, Christopher Bell, was sixth, followed by Team Penske‘s Ryan Blaney. It was another week where Blaney won the Pole Position in qualifying, and led many laps early, but faded late to finish P7. Hendrick Motorsports‘ Alex Bowman suffered a pit-road penalty, but rallied to finish eighth. Kyle Busch also recovered from a late-race penalty to finish in ninth place and Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon rounded out the top ton.

Credit: RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — APRIL 03: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford, leads the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 03, 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Next Stop Martinsville!
Short track racing continues as NASCAR heads down the Virginia Hwy to “The Paper Clip” 0.5 mile Martinsville Speedway for race 8 of the season- the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 on Saturday night. Chase Elliott, who finished 14th at Richmond, is now tied with Ryan Blaney at 241 points in the NASCAR Cup Series Driver Standings. However Blaney will be P1 based primarily on his 3 stage wins to Elliott’s zero and Blaney’s 334 laps led to Elliott’s 91.

Check back this week for the updated #GFTaiDriverRankings and our predictions for Martinsville. Follow all the action on our website https://gofullthrottle.net/ and real-time updates on our Twitter feed

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association