Recap: Denny Hamlin surges late to Richmond victory

Perhaps there was no better place for Denny Hamlin to finally notch his first win of 2022. Much to the pleasure of the fans at Richmond Raceway, the hometown favorite from Chesterfield, Virginia, took the lead of the Toyota Owners 400 from William Byron with five laps remaining and held off the field for a 0.552-seconds victory over Kevin Harvick.

It was Hamlin’s first top 10 of the 2022 season, though it marked his fourth NASCAR Cup Series victory at the 0.75-mile track — the very place the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota grew up watching NASCAR as a young fan.

It was the sixth win for the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team in the last eight races at the Richmond track — the 18th in the team’s history there. And it is the third consecutive race there that all four JGR drivers finished in the top 10.

RICHMOND: Official results | At-track gallery | Hamlin reacts to win

The victory was also significant in that the 41-year-old Hamlin stopped a 12-race victory run by drivers 30 years old or younger — a mark dating back to last season.

“Just drove as hard as I could,” said Hamlin, a perennial championship contender who had been ranked 20th in the standings before 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.”

Byron and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team opted to stay out on older tires for the last 90 laps and at one point held a five-second lead on the field. But as the teams opted for fresher tires during a series of late-race green-flag pit stops, it became apparent Byron would have to really work for the win — and do so on worn tires.

Ultimately, Hamlin, who got new tires with 47 laps to go, was able to dice his way through the field, taking the runner-up spot from his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. with six laps to go and continue moving forward to dive low and move into the lead around Byron with five laps remaining. Also on fresher tires, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Harvick was able to pass both Byron and Truex to take his best finish of the season as well.

“Really it’s the first clean day we’ve had all year,” Harvick, the 2014 series champion, 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.”

MORE: Kevin Harvick was prepared ‘to take a swipe,’ settles for runner-up finish

Truex, who has three wins in the last five Richmond races, finished fourth, followed by reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports.

JGR driver Christopher Bell was sixth, followed by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, the pole-sitter who led the first 128 laps of the race — most on the day. Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman recovered from a pit-road penalty to finish eighth. Kyle Busch recovered from a late-race penalty as well, to claim ninth place and Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon was 10th.

Blaney (first) and Truex (second) each won a stage and are the only three-time stage winners so far this season.

The NASCAR Cup Series next races on the half-mile Martinsville Speedway in next Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Truex is the defending spring-race winner.

RELATED: Watch Joe Gibbs Racing’s new pit-stop choreography

NOTE: There were no issues found during NASCAR’s post-race inspection, confirming Denny Hamlin as the winner. NASCAR indicated the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Truex Jr. and the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet of Daniel Suárez would return to the R&D Center for further inspection, which isn’t abnormal.