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via Imago

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Heading to the Cup Series weekend at Richmond Raceway, no driver was looking forward to gaining much-needed momentum at the short tracks than Denny Hamlin. After all, the Virginia native was no stranger to having strong results at his home track, finishing in the top-5 for 7 out of the last 10 races. But after qualifying down in 11th, his prospects weren’t looking too promising.

However, all that would change as the Toyota Owners 400 entered overtime. With only two laps to go, Kyle Larson spun and triggered a caution, sending the race into an overtime restart, which ended in misery for Martin Truex Jr after he had led over 220 laps of the entire race. While both the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy and the #19 Toyota Camry XSE were in great form, it would be the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing TRD that found its second win of the season, at Richmond.

How did Denny Hamlin manifest his win at Richmond Raceway?

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After qualifying was over for the Toyota Owners 400, Denny Hamlin sat down with the media and spoke about the importance of winning at Richmond. Just like Martinsville is a track beloved by Hendrick Motorsports, the 0.750-mile short track in Virginia is equally important to Hamlin. Before the race kicked off, the #11 JGR driver showcased great confidence, manifesting to turn around his poor qualifying result as he stated, “Now we just have to capitalize when we come to tracks like this where we’re always contenders.”

And that’s exactly what happened when the #11 crew capitalized on Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace’s altercation, which resulted in the fateful overtime. His teammate, Martin Truex Jr was caught out by the caution, falling victim to a brilliant pit stop from the #11 garage that put Hamlin out in front for the restart. Just as Hamlin had showcased his belief in his pit crew, they had done wonders and turned around on an otherwise challenging day at Richmond.

Looking back at the stellar comeback from 11th in qualifying, Hamlin believed credit had to be given with proper dues to those truly responsible for the #11’s turnaround. He shared in the post-race interview, This is a team win for sure. This trophy needs to go to each one of these pit crew member’s houses. They just did an amazing job, been killing it all year.” The #11 JGR driver had nothing but gratitude for his sponsors. However, the true winners of the night were certainly the crew. Hamlin concluded, “Such a great feeling when you know you can come in and have a pit crew like that.” 

This win at the Toyota Owners 400 not only takes Hamlin’s hometown win tally at Richmond to 5, but it is also his 53rd Cup win and 73rd win across the NASCAR premier series. According to veteran insider Seth Eggert, this win moves Hamlin to the 5th position among the all-time winningest drivers across the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck series. Now matching William Byron for wins this season, Denny Hamlin could very well make it to the Championship 4 at this rate.

However, this was only the story of #11 after the restart. When we talk about the man who truly lost it all at Richmond, that would be Hamlin’s teammate.

Martin Truex Jr calls out Hamlin’s shenanigans

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While it is true that the #11 pit crew truly outdid themselves at Richmond, Hamlin only led 17 laps all night long. In contrast, Martin Truex Jr led 228 laps, out of which 54 consecutive laps were added to his tally right before the final caution. So when Denny Hamlin took the lead in overtime, Truex Jr tried his best to maintain the side draft and take back his crown.  Unfortunately, the race would unfold for the worse for the Auto-Owners #19 Camry XSE, as he quickly slid out of the draft and dropped back toward Joey Logano and Kyle Larson, who ultimately passed him to secure the podium.

Evidently, the #19 JGR driver was frustrated with Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace for their part but was more so upset with what his teammate Denny Hamlin had done. He shared in the post-race interview with Noah Lewis, “I feel like #11 (Hamlin) used me up down in turn one and so I didn’t really appreciate my teammate racing me like that. I wish he would have given me a chance, but that’s the way it is. And then the #5 (Kyle Larson), he bumped me in the side in 1 and 2 and I got a little loose down the backstretch, I don’t know if my left rear was going down or what, and I kind of slammed into him, no big deal.”

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It’s safe to say Joe Gibbs Racing truly experienced both sides of the stories unfolding at Richmond; Glory for Hamlin, and heartbreak for Martin Truex Jr. With that said, can the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing crew maintain their mega pace for the long run?

READ MORE: Bubba Wallace Leaves Martin Truex Jr Fuming After Dirty Kyle Larson Spin Jeopardizes Richmond