Denny Hamlin wins the last regular NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season in Saturday nights Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Hamlin also locked himself atop the Chase standings over Jimmie Johnson by 10 points.
Clint Bowyer locked himself into the Chase with a sixth place finish. Bowyer led the third most laps that evened his car number with 33.
Hamlin led the most laps of the night, 251. Carl Edwards, who started on the pole finished tenth and led the second most of 95.
This was Hamlin’s 14th victory in 177 races as well as his second victory at Richmond.
This also summed up the regular season for Dale Earnhardt Jr. with a 34th place finish 6 laps down from his start of ninth.
Kyle Busch was the most improved driver with an improvement of 30 positions to finish runner-up.
This was the last race of the regular season. We are in Richmond for a night race and just one more position for twelfth to settle the Chase Race. Well, I guess we could say the last two positions as if there is any issue with Greg Biffle where he would finish last he would be out. So it comes down to Clint Bowyer, he needs to finish 28th or better to be locked in.
Terry Labonte is making a return to Cup tonight driving for Michael Waltrip in the number 55. He is replacing Mike Bliss and will have to go to the rear of the field.
Carl Edwards is the point man for tonight’s race. Juan Pablo Montoya will start next to him on the front row. They will be followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann.
We watch in respect for the moment of silence for 9/11 followed by Pledge of Allegiance, God Bless America by Night Ranger, the invocation and our National Anthem.
Everything was perfect for the opening ceremonies. I wish it could be that way every race. It is worth a TiVo.
A few minutes later, we have the command to start engines then the drivers head to the track. Three paces laps and we are going for 400 laps of pure fun.
Edwards leads the 43 drivers out of turn four to the…
GREEN FLAG as they driver through turns one and two without any issues, same with three and four. Allmendinger under Montoya for second place. Lap 2 and 3 they race side by side for the position but no winner yet.
Lap 4 three wide between David Ragan, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle for 22nd. Lap 7 Edwards has a 1.6 second lead over Montoya who now has the position. Bowyer watching to see what happens and waits for the time being.
Lap 12 early movers on the track see Jimmie Johnson start 11th up to 7th, Kurt Busch on lap 14 start 21st up to 15th and Kyle Busch from his start of 32nd up to 24th. Edwards continues his lead of 1.2 seconds. The field strings out single file. Lap 16 Johnson under Reutimann for 5th and takes it.
Lap 16 Kurt Busch to 14th passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. Lap 17 we also see Brad Keselowski battle with Paul Menard for 8th. Menard has it. Earnhardt Jr. is slipping back after Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin pass him. Lap 22 battle between Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon for 23rd. Harvick takes it. Harvick has minor damage to the left rear bumper after getting tagged from behind by Gordon a few laps earlier.
Lap 25 your top ten drivers are Edwards, Montoya, Allmendinger, Bowyer, Johnson, Reutimann, Joey Logano, Keselowski, Menard and Tony Stewart. Lap 27 Jami McMurray is the driver on the move from his start of 34th is currently 19th. Kurt Busch is up to 12th.
Lap 31 Montoya closes the gap to a half second behind Edwards. Earnhardt Jr. has slipped back to 25th with a “Real, Real loose” race car. Lap 34 Jason Leffler takes it to the garage as we start to see drivers fall a lap down. The first one to go is Terry Labonte followed by Kevin Conway, David Gilliland and Jeff Green. The next who could be on the list is Travis Kvapil, Tony Raines, Landon Cassill and Ekstrom.
Lap 40 all top five drivers are contending with the lap down drivers and each other. Lap 44 Bowyer under Allmendinger for 3rd. Johnson follows Bowyer to take 4th. Lap 46 we see a continued battle between Kyle Busch, Gordon and Harvick for 22nd. Joe Nemechek takes his car to the garage.
Lap 48 Johnson passes Bowyer for 3rd place. Montoya continues to dog Edwards for the lead but no change as of yet. Lap 50 we see the top twenty drivers of Edwards, Montoya, Johnson, Bowyer, Allmendinger, Reutimann, Stewart, Logano, Keselowski, Menard, Matt Kenseth, Marcos Ambrose, Hamlin, Regan Smith, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, McMurray, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne.
Lap 54 Johnson passes Montoya with ease, closes in and takes the lead away from Edwards.
YELLOW FLAG lap 57 as Reutimann spins out on the back stretch with a left rear flat and some damage. Kurt Busch helped Reutimann with his spin out of turn two. Elliott Sadler is the lucky dog. Nemechek is back on track 11 laps down as the field heads to pit road.
Lap 59 the race back to the track is Edwards, Johnson, Bowyer, Montoya and Stewart. Nemechek is a wave around driver.
GREEN FLAG lap 63 as Edwards has the position heading into turns one and two. Johnson is under attack on lap 64 by Bowyer. Stewart passes Montoya for 4th. Lap 65 Allmendinger passes Montoya for 5th. Lap 66 Bowyer under Johnson for 2nd place. Bowyer is followed by Stewart to take 3rd from Johnson.
Lap 68 Montoya is not doing well on the outside line as Kenseth works on his inside line. Lap 69 they are followed by Kurt Busch versus teammate Keselowski for 8th. Lap 71 Hamlin working for the position under Ambrose for 10th. Burton passing Menard for 12th.
Lap 75 your top ten drivers are Edwards, Bowyer, Stewart, Johnson, Allmendinger, Montoya, Kurt Busch, Kenseth, Hamlin and Keselowski. Lap 77 Nemechek is done for the night, well, he almost lasted for a quarter of the race. Conway is 8 laps down. Lap 80 Edwards leads Bowyer by 1.1 seconds, we hear it’s the battle of the cereals by Edwards.
Lap 82 a battle for 15th between Logano, Harvick and Kyle Busch. Lap 85 Hamlin versus Stewart for 7th and Hamlin has it. Logano and Kyle Busch continue the fight for 15th and Busch has it. Lap 87 Harvick tires the outside to take 16th from Logano and he has it.
Lap 90 Edwards leads Bowyer just a bit under a second and 3rd place Johnson by 2.2 seconds. Lap 93 Hamlin under Kurt Busch for 6th place. Lap 96 Edwards is falling off pace just a tick to a half second lead over Bowyer.
Lap 100 (300 to go) as the top twenty drivers are Edwards, Bowyer, Johnson, Allmendinger, Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Montoya, Stewart, Kenseth, Keselowski, Ambrose, Burton, McMurray, Kyle Busch, Menard, Harvick, Logano, Newman, Smith and Martin Truex Jr.
Lap 101 Bowyer takes the lead. So far we have seen 3 lead changes between 3 drivers. One caution has come out for 6 laps. Lap 105 Johnson closes in on Edwards for 2nd place. Lap 107 Hamlin under Johnson for 3rd place. Hamlin grabs 2nd place. Edwards is not doing good on long runs as he slips back to 4th place after Johnson passes him.
Lap 111 Hamlin takes the lead from Bowyer. Lap 113 Sadler falls a lap down with Earnhardt Jr. next then we look at Biffle, Dave Blaney, Bobby Labonte, Kahne and Ragan that may be added to the lap down list.
Lap 120 the movers of the race so far see Ekstrom move up 8 positions from 42 up to 34th, Sam Hornish JR. up 8 from 33rd up to 25th, Martin Truex Jr. up 9 from 29th to 20th, Newman 7 positions from 23rd to 16th, McMurray up 20 spots from 34th to 14th, Burton up 14 from 25th to 11th, Kurt Busch up 12 from 21st up to 9th and Hamlin up 13 from 13th to the lead.
Lap 130 your top 10 drivers are Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson, Allmendinger, Edwards, Montoya, Kenseth, Stewart, Kurt Busch and Ambrose. Lap 132 to continue to add to the lap down list we see David Ragan, Mark Martin, Scott Speed and Hornish Jr. The next could be Reutimann, Truex Jr., Casey Mears and Gordon.
Lap 135 Hamlin leads Bowyer by 3.4 seconds and 3rd place Johnson by 5 seconds. Lap 137 Stewart passes Edwards to take 7th place. Lap 140 Earnhardt Jr. heads to pit road for a big adjustment. Lap 142 Gordon falls a lap down which leaves Menard and Smith to fall a lap down as well. The next would be Logano, Newman, Keselowski.
Pit stops begin on lap 145 as we see Reutimann, Kahne Green on pit road as…
YELLOW FLAG lap 147 as Terry Labonte hits the outside wall in turn three with a front right flat. Logano is the lucky dog. The leaders to pit road. The race back is Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson, Kenseth and Allmendinger. Edwards is back to 9th after a sizeable change to his setup.
Lap 150 your top twenty drivers are Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson, Kenseth, Allmendinger, Montoya, Burton, Edwards, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Ambrose, Kurt Busch, McMurray, Newman, Keselowski, Logano, Gordon, Menard and Smith.
Earnhardt Jr., Truex Jr., Biffle, Kahne, Reutimann, Gilliland and Speed are wave around drivers.
GREEN FLAG lap 154 as Johnson with a big move under Hamlin and Bowyer to take the lead. Biffle heads to pit road for a flat tire and NASCAR will hold him for a lap. Lap 156 Burton was way loosen the outside of Edwards. Lap 157 battle for the lead as Hamlin takes the lead.
Lap 159 challenge from Stewart under Kyle Busch for 9th and in front of them Bowyer under Allmendinger for 3rd place. Lap 161 Harvick looking for 10th from Kyle Busch but not yet.
Lap 162 as Hamlin pulls away Bowyer works on Johnson for second place. Lap 167 Kyle Busch passes Stewart for 9th who is followed by Harvick to take 10th to put Stewart to 11th. Lap 168 Montoya and Kenseth for 6th, Montoya has it. Kyle Busch takes 8th from Burton.
Lap 170 we have 17 drivers left on the lead lap with Logano, Keselowski, McMurray and Kurt Busch who would be next on the list which will take some time for leader Hamlin.
Lap 174 Bowyer takes the lead. Lap 178 drivers who have slipped back in the field are Keselowski from 8th back to 16th as Hamlin takes back the lead on lap 180, and Kyle Busch passing Edwards to 5th.
Lap 182 we also see Logano slipping from 6th to 17th and Bowyer back into the lead. Also falling back is Reutimann from 5th back to 21st, Menard 7th down to 24th, Earnhardt Jr. 9th down to 34th and Green from 16th down to 38th.
Lap 192 Hamlin closes in on Bowyer for the lead they have to contend with lap down traffic as close in on Green and Kvapil. Lap 195 we are hearing a bit of talk of rain that could be heading to the track but no time when. This may make the difference, but we will be more than half way home.
Lap 200 (halfway home) and the top twenty drivers are Bowyer, Hamlin, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Allmendinger, Montoya, Kenseth, Harvick, Edwards, Burton, Newman, Stewart, Ambrose, Kurt Busch, McMurray, Logano and Keselowski on the lead lap followed by Gordon, Reutimann and Smith one lap down.
Hamlin is back in the lead on lap 201. Lap 203 Johnson takes second from Bowyer. More talk of rain coming towards the track. Lap 206 so far we have seen 10 lead changes among 4 leaders as well as 2 cautions for 13 laps.
Lap 209 Earnhardt Jr. having some big trouble with the handling of his car as he is 3 laps down in 34th. Lap 210 NASCAR talk of a mist hitting the track in turn three. The rest of the track reports no issues with the mist yet.
Lap 213 Hamlin leads Johnson by 1 second and 2.2 seconds over 3rdplace Bowyer. 5th place Allmendinger is 5.7 seconds back and 10th place Stewart is 11.6 seconds back. Lap 215 the mist hasn’t really moved in on the track yet. Turn three still has it but the other turns are ok.
Lap 220 Kyle Busch closes in on Bowyer for 3rd place. WE are getting close to another round of green flag pit stops.
YELLOW FLAG lap 225 for rain. Gordon is the lucky dog. The top ten drivers before stops are Hamlin, Johnson, Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Allmendinger, Montoya, Kenseth, Harvick, Newman and Stewart.
The leaders head to pit road so they must think that the rain will not last long. Out of pit road it is Hamlin, Johnson, Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Montoya. Burton and McMurray stay out. To round out the rest of the top ten we see Allmendinger, Kenseth and Harvick.
Lap 235 NASCAR keeps the cars circling the track to help out the jet dryers to see if the vortex effect will keep the track from being lost to the light rain that continues to fall on the track.
Lap 237 let’s do a lap through the field as NASCAR shows three until green. Leffler, Nemechek, Conway and Labonte are in the garage. Tony Raines is 5 laps down, Green is 4 laps down along with Kvapil and Gilliland, 3 laps down is Biffle, Earnhardt Jr. and Cassill. 2 laps down is Kahne, Blaney, Menard, Sadler, Ekstrom, Bobby Labonte and Hornish Jr.
GREEN FLAG lap 242 as Hamlin and Johnson lead us back to racing. Hamlin shoots away from Johnson and Bowyer who battle for second place. Lap 245 Allmendinger under Kenseth for 6th. Lap 246 we see Logano and Ambrose battle for 12th. Lap 248 one lap down we see Truex Jr., Smith, Ragan, Mears, Martin and Reutimann.
Lap 250 your top twenty drivers are Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Montoya, Allmendinger, Kenseth, Newman, Stewart, Harvick, Edwards, Ambrose, Logano, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, McMurray Burton and Gordon on the lead lap followed by Reutimann and Martin one lap down.
Newman under Kenseth as they continue a battle for 7th on lap 256. Lap 258 Hamline leads Bowyer by 1.3 seconds, 3rd place Johnson by 1.9 seconds, 4th place Kyle Busch 2.2 seconds, 5th place Montoya 2.8 seconds and 10th place Harvick by 6.5 seconds.
Hamlin is the third driver to lead more than one thousand laps on this track. Lap 264 the mist is back again in turn three. Lap 265 Logano under Ambrose for 12th but cannot complete the pass.
Lap 269 Ambrose is under attack by Logano on the outside this time. Lap 270 Kenseth running 11th on the outside as Ambrose is in the middle, Logano on the bottom. Lap 272 Logano makes the inside line work as he overtakes Kenseth for 11th. Lap 274 Ambrose under Kenseth for 12th.
Lap 275 your top ten drivers are Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Montoya, Allmendinger, Newman, Harvick, Stewart and Edwards. Lap 279 Bowyer is staring to close in on Hamlin for the lead. Edwards passes Kenseth and Ambrose to take 11th, Logano runs 10th.
Lap 283 Edwards takes 10th from Stewart followed by Ambrose who takes 11th. Lap 285 Harvick challenges Logano for 8th, or should we say Logano took 8th from Harvick. Lap 289 Ambrose passes Edwards for 10thplace. Lap 291 Hamlin leads Bowyer by three car lengths. Lap 294 NASCAR spotters see more mist / drizzle in turn three.
Lap 298 more talk of rain on the back stretch but ok in turn one.
Lap 300 (100 to go) and your top twenty drivers are Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Montoya, Allmendinger, Logano, Newman, Ambrose, Harvick, Edwards, Kenseth, Stewart, Kurt Busch, Burton, Keselowski, McMurray and Gordon. Reutimann is 19th and Martin 20th. So far we have seen 12 lead changes among 5 leaders and 3 cautions for 28 laps.
Lap 307 Earnhardt Jr. heads into pit road as the setup is wearing him thin. After his stop Earnhardt Jr. will emerge 6 laps down. Hamlin is 1.2 seconds in front of Bowyer but is hung up behind two lap down drivers of Bobby Labonte and Hornish Jr.
Lap 315 Biffle and Menard pit. Lap 318 Kahne is on pit road. Lap 319 Stewart is the first leader on pit road followed by Montoya. Lap 321 Truex Jr. and Green are in for a stop. Lap 322 Keselowski, McMurray are in. Lap 323 Allmendinger, Burton, Sadler and Harvick are in.
Lap 325 Edwards, Martin, Bobby Labonte, Hornish Jr., Kurt Busch are in. Lap 326 Reutimann, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Hamlin, Kenseth and a few others are in. Lap 327 Johnson, Gordon, Mears and Ragan are in.
Lap 328 Montoya takes the lead for the first time tonight. Bobby Labonte is back on pit road as we flames come from under the car. Lap 330 Hamlin is all over Montoya for the lead. Lap 331 Hamlin under Montoya in turn three for the lead and takes it.
Lap 332 Johnson passes Bowyer for 4th place. Kyle Busch runs third. Lap 334 Kyle Busch takes second place from Montoya. Lap 336 Johnson takes 3rd from Montoya. Lap 337 Montoya’s tires or handling is wearing out as Bowyer closes in. Lap 343 Kenseth closes in on Burton for 12thplace.
Lap 347 Kenseth takes the position. Lap 348 Kyle Busch is the biggest mover on the track from his start of 32nd up to 2nd.
Lap 350 (50 to go) and your top twenty drivers are Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Montoya, Bowyer, Logano, Allmendinger, Ambrose, Harvick, Edwards, Newman, Kenseth, Burton, Stewart, Keselowski, Gordon, McMurray and Kurt Busch on the lead lap followed by Reutimann and Martin a lap down.
40 to go Kyle Busch closes in to 3 car lengths behind Hamlin. The two front runners leave the field behind by 2.2 seconds. 5th place Montoya is 6.4 second back. 10th place Edwards is 13 seconds back. 36 to go as we have only Martin and Reutimann one lap down. Martin is in danger of going two laps down.
33 to go as the leaders are tangled up in traffic, this allows Kyle Busch to run on Hamlin’s bumper.
30 to go it looks like Kurt Busch (18th) is going to fall a lap down and we see that McMurray and Stewart may go a lap down as well. The only other lead battle could be Gordon passing Kenseth for 13th.
25 to go as we see Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Bowyer, Logano, Montoya, Ambrose, Allmendinger, Harvick and Edwards running in the top ten.
20 to go as Hamlin and Kyle Busch put McMurray a lap down and Busch tries a swipe at Hamlin but nothing yet.
The leaders close in on 16th place Stewart.
16 to go Kyle Busch under Hamlin for a tick.
15 to go as Busch just rubs the back of Hamlin as they pass Stewart.
14 to go Logano challenges Bowyer for 4th and takes it. Hamlin pulls to a two car lead over Busch.
12 to go as 3rd place Johnson is 3.1 seconds.
10 to go for Hamlin now to a half second over Kyle Busch.
9 to go as we hear on the scanner that Kyle Busch has used up his tires and may be done.
8 to go Hamlin by almost 1 second now. Keselowski may go a lap down to make it 14 on the lead lap.
6 to go left on the lead lap with Kenseth who may go a lap down.
5 to go Hamlin by 1 second over Kyle Busch.
4 to go with Keselowski between Hamlin and Kyle Busch
3 to go as Kyle Busch passes Keselowski 1 second back from Hamlin.
2 to go Hamlin and no threat.
WHITE FLAG for Hamlin and the car looking real good. Out of turn four…
CHECKERED FLAG for Hamlin and his sixth win and will be on the top of the Chase Race. The race lasted for three hours. We saw 14 lead changes among 6 leaders and a record tying three cautions for the least amount of cautions that lasted for 28 laps. 14 drivers finished on the lead lap.
So here is the Chase Line Up –
Hamlin 5060 – 6 Wins
Johnson 5050 – 5 Wins
Harvick 5030 – 3 Wins
Kyle Busch 5030 – 3 Wins
Kurt Busch 5020 – 2 Wins
Tony Stewart 5010 – 1 Win
Greg Biffle 5010 – 1 Win
Jeff Gordon 5000
Carl Edwards 5000
Jeff Burton 5000
Matt Kenseth 5000
Clint Bowyer 5000
|22||29||56||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||97||0||398|
|28||33||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||79||0||397|
|34||9||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||61||0||394|
|41||41||7||Kevin Conway *||Toyota||40||0||118|