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Hamlin wins Richmond, Vickers makes Chase

13 September 2009


Denny Hamlin has dominated Richmond on several occasions without winning but, on Saturday night, he finally got the payoff he has deserved, leading 299 of 400 laps in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 to get his first win at his home track.

The win was Hamlin's second of the year and the sixth of his career and helped set aside his past disappointments at Richmond. In spring 2008, Hamlin led 381 laps and finished sixth after cutting a tyre late in the race. Earlier this year, he led 148 laps but finished 14th.

Kurt Busch ran second, followed by Jeff Gordon, while polesitter Mark Martin also secured a place in the Chase with a fourth-place result.

"This is like a Daytona 500 win for anyone else,” the winner enthused, “This is my house. It has been for the last two years, but we just haven't got the win to show for it. Finally, today, our FedEx Toyota showed that we're a championship contender.”

Hamlin, however, had to share the spotlight with Brian Vickers, who drove his way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a seventh-place finish at the 0.75-mile short track. Vickers knocked 25th-place finisher Matt Kenseth out of the twelfth and final berth in the Chase, and beat fifth-place finisher Kyle Busch for the position by eight points.

In addition to Vickers and Martin, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Greg Biffle also claimed Chase berths, while Hamlin, Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and points leader Tony Stewart were already locked in. The twelve drivers will now be reseeded according to their victories in the season's first 26 races before the ten-race Chase begins next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. With 40 bonus points for four wins, Martin is set to be confirmed as the Chase's top seed.

The night's biggest casualty was Kenseth, who won't be a part of the Chase for the first time since the inception of NASCAR's play-off system in 2004 after struggling with the handling of his #17 Ford all evening.

“It amazes me that, every week, we don't have any adjustments that help the front tyres and make them happier,” a frustrated Kenseth radioed to his crew on lap 242.

Kenseth's exit leaves Johnson as the only driver who has qualified for all six editions of the Chase, but the suspense wasn't whether Kenseth would fall out of the Chase, but rather whether Busch or Vickers would supplant him.

The pair flip-flopped in and out of the twelfth spot in the standings as they gained and lost positions on the track, but the decisive stretch of the race came after a caution was called on lap 326, when Michael Waltrip spun on the frontstretch. Vickers restarted seventh, two spots behind Busch, but soon passed his rival and took over the fifth spot, as Busch complained sarcastically about a bad set of tyres for the crucial late-race run.

Vickers had some nervous moments after the final caution of the race on lap 380, when Busch beat him out of the pits. Busch gained two spots on the restart but gave them back over the final 14 laps, while Vickers held the seventh spot.

“We picked a really good night to figure this place out,” said Vickers, whose only top ten at Richmond came in 2004, “[Crew chief] Ryan [Pemberton] and the guys did a tremendous job, and this was probably the best car I've ever had [at Richmond].”

Busch was philosophical after falling short.

“Well, we did all we can do,” he said, knowing that his clutch of early season wins will now count for little in the bigger picture, “We gave a valiant effort, and it was a good night for the M&M's Toyota to come in fifth place. That's what you look for in these deals, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to get ourselves locked in the Chase.

“But it's not just tonight, or it's not just last week that's kept us out. It's been the past 26 races that, unfortunately, some days I didn't do my best, and we didn't have the best cars, or whatever it might have been. So you can look at a whole different scenario or a whole different slew of things, but what it boils down to is we missed.”

Also of note, Regan Smith finished 40th, suffering his first DNF in 54 Cup races.

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service


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