By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Growing up just 20 miles from Richmond International Raceway, Denny Hamlin has always run well at his hometown track, scoring three wins at the 0.75-mile oval over the years. Though Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 did not result in a win for Hamlin and his No. 11 team, they were still able to come away with their best finish of the season after ending the day in third place.
Through the first seven races of the season, Hamlin would either finish inside the top-10 or find himself mid-pack or worse at the end of the race, so it was imperative that his team start stringing together some top-five finishes in order to get closer to ending the day in victory lane, which has eluded him and the other Joe Gibbs Racing drivers this season.
Hamlin showed speed in all three practice sessions, finishing all of them with speeds in the top-10, but he would have his work cut out for him once the race began as he only managed a 16th place starting spot.
Despite starting outside the top-10, the speed in Hamlin’s Toyota propelled him into the top-five by the end of the first stage, finishing the first 100 laps in fifth place. The second stage was more of the same as he was able to advance even further over the next 100 laps to finish fourth in that stage.
The final stage was even more promising for Hamlin as he powered his way into the lead on three different occasions over the final 200 laps, leading 59 of those laps, which more than doubled his previous laps led total in 2017.
Though he would lose the lead to the Team Penske duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski at lap 362, Hamlin still held onto third place throughout the closing laps to score his best finish of the season.
“We were competitive and our car drove really good,” said Hamlin. “We were just missing some of the speed from the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Joey Logano) – they run a little more sideways than what we run and just they have more grip. I think we optimized our day for the most part and that’s about as good as we could do.”
Heading to next weekend’s race at Talladega, Hamlin now sits 11th in points after his Richmond finish.
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