He might have fallen two laps short of repeating Joey Logano's feat of leading every lap of the race last week at Bristol, but in every other respect Denny Hamlin showed Logano and indeed everyone else just who was boss as he dominated the Friday night race under the floodlights at Richmond International Raceway to pick up his 12th NASCAR Xfinity Series career win and his first of 2015.
CLICK: Full race results for the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway
As well as being his third all-time win at his home circuit just 15 miles away from where Hamlin grew up, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver's victory this weekend also marks the 100th time in 281 outings that a Toyota-powered car has claimed the chequered flag in NASCAR's second-tier championship.
"The 100th Xfinity win for Toyota - that's a big one,” said Hamlin as he led the team celebrations on victory lane. "I was able to get the 100th Cup win at Loudon a few years ago for those guys and JGR. This is a big win for everyone."
Hamlin - who showed absolutely no after effects from the neck and back spasms that had forced him to pull out of last week's Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway five days ago - credited a successful reunion with crew chief Mike Wheeler for the evening's success. "I'm glad to be working with Wheels again, he put a rocket under us tonight."
Hamlin had started the ToyotaCare 250 up front after sweeping qualifying on his way to picking up his 17th pole position in 147 Xfinity starts, three of them now having come at Richmond. His final round lap of 21.762s (124.069mph) on the three-quarter-mile track put him just nine thousandths of a second ahead of Logano in the top 12 shoot-out for pole. Logano duly joined Hamlin on the front row for the green flag and thereafter proved virtually impossible to shake for virtually the whole evening, but neither did the Penske driver have the edge to get round Hamlin.
The pair ran upfront side-by-side almost the entire evening, and the only two laps for which Hamlin wasn't in charge were lap 154 (when Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott briefly surged to the lead following a round of pit stops under caution caused by Ross Chastain hitting the wall in turn 2) and lap 226 (when Elliott Sadler led for Roush Fenway Racing during a green flag pit stop sequence.)
Logano dropped back in the final stint as the Penske pit crew advised him to save the tyres just in case a late-race caution materialised and gave them the chance to jump Hamlin for victory at the dying minutes, but no such opportunity arose and the #20 had nearly four seconds in hand over Logano and the rest of the field when it crossed the finish line.
"It's been a great day obviously right from the very start," Hamlin said. "I knew if I could get through the first five laps of a restart, I would be able to set the pace.
"Our car had some great speed and that's the key to victory. It's not tricks or anything like that. It's just you've got to have a fast car," he added. "They gave me something special tonight and we were able to dominate with it. You don't get these cars often."
JGR clearly knows something special about racing at Richmond, as Kyle Busch led for all 250 laps in the Xfinity Series' last visit here in the autumn of 2014.
"He was just so fast, we had nothing for him," Logano admitted after the race. "We had a second place Discount Tire Ford Mustang and that is right where we finished. We knew he was fast in practice and it transferred right over. I know what it is like to be on the other end of the butt whooping and it isn't as much fun from this side! Congrats to that team, we just didn't have a shot tonight."
Regan Smith was able to get around Hamlin's JGR team mate Erik Jones for third place, making the JR Motorsports driver the highest-scoring of the Xfinity Series regulars. Smith's team mate and reigning champion Chase Elliott was fifth ahead of the third JGR car driven by Daniel Suarez. Brian Scott finished in seventh place just ahead of his RCR colleague Austin Dillon, who was the last man on the lead lap.
Austin's brother Ty crossed the line a lap down in ninth place, which is enough to see him restored to the top of the current championship standings by eight points from Chase Elliott. Roush's Chris Buescher drops to third in the points after labouring to a 20th place finish at Richmond, three laps off the pace.
Other than Chastain's accident there were two further cautions during the race, the first for debris on the front straightaway on lap 49, and the other for Jimmy Weller hitting the turn 2 wall on lap 110.
However by far the biggest drama of the night happened off the racing line and back on pit road under the caution triggered by Weller, when a spark ignited gasoline leaking from a malfunctioning fuelling mechanism in Brendan Gaughan's pit stall resulting in a massive fireball that engulfed RCR rear tyre changer Anthony O'Brien. The safety workers quickly extinguished the flames and O'Brien was taken to the infield care centre and then to local hospital to have his injuries attended to, reassuring the crowd by giving them a thumbs-up sign as he was taken away.
Also needing attention were Gaughan's fuel man Josh Wittman along with Clifford Turner, a crew member from Eric McLure's JGL Racing which was situated in the neighbouring pit stall. Turner - who wasn't himself burned but who had instead inhaled extinguisher chemical when he threw himself on top of one of Gaughan's crew men - was released from hospital later in the night, while both of the RCR personnel were kept in for further treatment and observation overnight. Neither the team nor the sanctioning body gave further details on their conditions.
"An emotional night for this entire South Point team and I here at Richmond," commented Gaughan. "When I saw the flame and that none of the guys were near my car, I tried to get away as fast as I could. That race car only had more fuel in it that could potentially ignite and I didn't want that to happen. Don't tell me these guys aren't professional athletes, they are the toughest, most athletic guys I have seen. We had a strong finish and now I am going to go check on my boys."
"I didn't see what happened there but I heard a few guys went to the hospital," said Logano after the race. "[The drivers] don't really see it so our heads don't really get spun out in any way. But for a pit crew to see that, that can be challenging. They are all athletes and have all been through tough things before and are tough. That is why they got to this level, because they are tough people and can handle things mentally. Hopefully they are all okay."
RCR subsequently issued a medical update on Saturday night, which read: "Following last night's pit road incident at Richmond International Raceway, Richard Childress Racing pit crew member (gas man) Josh Wittman of the #62 Xfinity Series team has been released from a Richmond, VA-based hospital after overnight observation. Thanks to quick action that was taken by the Richmond International Raceway fire crew and NASCAR medical staff.
"Rear tyre changer Anthony O'Brien remains under the care of physicians at the local hospital for further evaluation and is in good condition. The Sparco safety equipment, including the crew members' firesuits, did its job in protecting them. We thank the NASCAR community for their continued support."
See full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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