Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Throwback Thursday Theater – A Game of NASCAR Tag at Richmond

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heading back to another short track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway after a rain-delayed Monday race at Bristol, we’re set for another edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” to take a look back at the 2008 Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond, which showcased racing at Richmond at its finest.

Heading into the race weekend, there were several storylines that were the talk of the sport, including Denny Hamlin seeking his first win at his home track in Richmond and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. looking to break a career long winless streak by scoring his first win for Hendrick Motorsports after moving to the team in 2008. Ironically, both would come into play during the Dan Lowry 400.

After starting on the pole, Hamlin absolutely dominated the first 382 laps, leading all but one of those laps. Hamlin was no doubt the class of the field and was able to hang onto the lead through nine caution periods, including one for an 11 car pileup in Turn 3 on lap 231 caused by J.J. Yeley getting turned into the backstretch wall by Carl Edwards, which caused Patrick Carpentier to get turned behind them and then the melee ensued from there. The red flag would wind up being displayed after that wreck to help the safety crews tend to the drivers involved and get the track cleared.

Besides the 11 car pileup, one of the other caution periods came on lap 356 when Casey Mears tried to cut in front of Michael Waltrip on the frontstretch, but wasn’t clear, sending the No. 55 of Waltrip into the outside wall. Of course, Waltrip didn’t take too kindly to the move and immediately sped up and rammed the back of the No. 5 of Mears and pushed him into the Turn 1 wall as payback. NASCAR was not fond of what Waltrip had done and he was parked for the remainder of the race.

Getting back to Hamlin’s dominance, it looked as if Hamlin had the race in the bag as the laps wound down, but the Virginia native would suffer a slow leak in his right front tire, which would allow the two cars running second and third at the time, Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch to catch Hamlin and make a daring three wide pass on him with 18 laps to go.

Earnhardt scooted away with the lead after the pass and began pulling away from the field and looked to be well on his way to scoring his first win since 2006 and first points win for Hendrick Motorsports, but Hamlin’s tire finally gave way on lap 392 and instead of making it back to pit road so the race could continue under green, Hamlin stopped on track in Turn 4 to draw the caution, giving the rest of the field another shot at Earnhardt. Like Waltrip’s move earlier in the race, NASCAR didn’t like Hamlin stopping on track to draw the caution and he was parked for two laps.

When asked about how disappointing losing out on a win at his home track after having the dominant car for the majority of the race, Hamlin responded by saying: “It’s tough to say. I mean, you can’t whine about it. It just wasn’t meant to be. God didn’t want me to win today and there’s a better time for us to win evidently. Today’s just not our day.”

The race restarted with five laps remaining and Earnhardt once again pulled away with the lead, but Busch made a charge on Earnhardt and the two raced side-by-side down the backstretch and down into Turn 3 with three laps to go, but that is when chaos broke out again. With Busch down low and Earnhardt up high as the entered Turn 3, Busch got loose and washed up the track and got into Earnhardt, sending him spinning backwards into the Turn 3 wall.

With Busch slowed by the contact and Earnhardt in the wall, third place driver Clint Bowyer was able to scoot by on the bottom as the caution flag flew for the 11th time of the night. After 10 caution laps, the race went to a green-white-checkered flag finish and Bowyer was able to pull away from Busch over the final two laps to score his second career Cup Series win.

“Man, this is awesome,” said Bowyer from Victory Lane. “I love this place. You know, I messed things up in qualifying for these guys, and we just dug deep and worked hard and things worked out. Just took advantage of a misfortune right there up front, but I’m just really happy for BB&T and this Chevrolet Impala was fast all day. Jack Daniel’s, DirecTV, everybody involved in this thing, I just want to thank everybody. This is awesome; it’s what it’s all about.”

With the thrill of victory for Bowyer, there was also the agony of defeat for Busch and Earnhardt, who both spoke about the late race incident between the two.

“It was just a bummer deal there,” said Busch. “You know, we were both racing hard there and Denny Hamlin, first off, was the class of the field today. His car was awesome, that FedEx, Joe Gibbs Toyota was great. Junior and I were just racing hard there and getting into Turn 3, from the front end replay it looked like he may have come down a little bit, but you know it’s just a part of racing.”

“I mean, I probably could have moved down a little bit lower getting into the corner and he could have moved up higher, but it’s just a product of good, hard racing. I apologize to those guys. You know, it’s tough that they had a great race car and they probably could have finished, if not winning the race, probably second.”

Earnhardt naturally took a bit of a different tone on the incident.

“Whether it’s fair or not, he’s going to need some security, from all of us,” he said. “I haven’t seen the replay, Tony (Eury) Jr. said it looked like Kyle got loose underneath me and that happens. I wasn’t good on the bottom, so I moved up to the top to run as good as I could up there and he had been running the bottom, so I figured we’d race it out. He got a great run around (Turn) 1 and 2 and nearly got by me, but he gave me room on the outside off of (Turn) 2, so I wouldn’t say it was intentional going into (Turn) 3. If he wanted to, he could have just run me into the fence off of Turn 2, but we had been racing each other earlier and had no problem.”

“I’ve done that before, if that’s what happened, and he got loose underneath me, but the worst part about it is I’ve been priding myself on running good all year and I was in position for a win, and I ran hard, and got wrecked. I had a top three car and should have finished in the top three. I was going for the win and ended up on the hook today. Just disappointed.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.