The second Playoff race of the 2020 season at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, was a night that started off strong for Denny Hamlin before it went backwards for the remainder of the race. Though Hamlin was left out of contention for the win, a top-12 result along with the stage points and laps led he accomplished throughout Saturday’s race was more than enough for the Chesterfield, Virginia, native to clinched his spot for the second round of the Playoffs.
For the first stage of the race, Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Cares Toyota Camry were competitive. Rolling off the grid in seventh place, Hamlin was able to crack the top five within the first 10 laps. By the time the competition caution flew on Lap 30, Hamlin was still in fifth place and slowly lurking his way to the lead.
Following a pit stop and a restart on Lap 37, Hamlin muscled his way into second place and shortly after, he took the lead from Austin Dillon. From there, Hamlin was able to drive away from the field and claim the first stage win on Lap 80 over Dillon as he also collected valuable stage points. By then, he also led a total of 45 laps.
It all went away, however, during the stage break when Hamlin was busted for speeding on pit road and was sent to the rear of the field. From the start of the second stage, Hamlin struggled in working his way back to the front as he was mired outside the top 20. He was able to work his way back to 14th place when the second stage concluded on Lap 235.
For the remainder of the race, however, he could never regain the early speed he exhibited on the track. Mired within the top 15 and a lap behind the leaders, Hamlin crossed the finish line in 12th place.
Despite a struggle of a night and a disappointing outcome, there was a silver lining for Hamlin and his No. 11 team. Based on their results, Hamlin racked up enough points to clinch a spot for the Round of 12 in the Playoffs, joining Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, as he also kept his championship hopes for this season alive.
“It just seemed like once the track rubbered up, we just weren’t any good,” Hamlin said. “We couldn’t get off the corner good, couldn’t get in the corner. Just nothing was really very good with it. I want to thank everyone from FedEx Cares for putting this car on the race track. This definitely means a lot to people I spoke to last week with the National Urban League, so thank you everyone. We will move on to the next round and go have some fun next week and see how we do.”
Hamlin, along with his fellow Playoff contenders, will return for the next scheduled NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 19, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.