Denny Hamlin Jumps Restart to Secure Unprecedented Easter Win

The Richmond Easter race weekend began with the NASCAR logo in the infield being misspelled.  It was just the start of an unprecedented NRSCAR kind of weekend.

Joey Gase. Photo from Slicks and Sticks

Short track racing brings out the temper in drivers and often results in the offended driver tossing something at the driver who wronged them.  In the past it’s been gloves, shoe pads, a water bottle but the worst may be a helmet.  Xfinity driver Joey Gase took expressing his anger to an unprecedented level when he ripped the rear panel of his damaged vehicle and tossed it onto the windshield of the offending Dawson Cram.  Whether you agree with it or not (I’m not for safety reasons, but I’m a boring fella anyway), you must give him points for imagination, ingenuity, and form.  In one toss, he made his displeasure unmistakably clear and became an instant superstar whose clip of his toss will be replayed forever and ever. The $5,000 penalty imposed to become a racing immortal may be worth it, but only Joey Gase can answer that one.      

Pre-race rain presented NASCAR with the opportunity to make an unprecedented start in oval points race by having the field mount wet weather tires and start the race on a wet track.  For the first 32 Laps the 36 cars raced on the wets as the track continued drying.  During this unprecedented track time, Kyle Larson passed leader Chase Elliott for the only Racing Lead Change in the race.

After a Competition Caution with non-competitive pit stops allowed the field to switch to slicks, a questionable caution for Kyle Busch contacting the wall and continuing, disrupted the various pit strategies that were in play and the field reset to go at it again.

Chase Elliott, #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on March 31, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

The race ended with a bit of controversy as Martin Truex, Jr. dominated the last part of the race but had gotten hung in traffic and was being run down by a charging Joey Logano.  As he is coming down to take the White Flag, P5 Bubba Wallace spins P4 Kyle Larson to bring out a Caution and set up a Green-White-Checker finish.  P3 Denny Hamlin’s pit crew gets him out ahead of Leader Truex, Jr. and P2 Joey Logano and then jumps the restart to collect the race win in what turned out to be another unprecedented race weekend in an unprecedented season.

Denny Hamlin’s early restart ensured he would hold his position for the race win and set up a mess of controversy.  NASCAR initially reported to FOX, they weren’t reviewing the restart.  A normally cool, but now highly frustrated Truex, Jr. was irate, first dooring Larson repeatedly for causing the last caution and Larson retaliating sending Truex, Jr. into the wall.  Truex Jr. repeatedly slammed the rear bumper of teammate Hamlin on the cool down lap.  

Since the checkered flag dropped, Truex, Jr. said Hamlin jumped the restart, Hamlin admitted he jumped, NASCAR said at the time they made a bang-bang call and saw no problem, but after further review said Denny did jump.  Then NASCAR added fuel to the fire by saying that restarts earlier in the race may be called differently than at the end.  All in all, the resultant social media dust up that is still being cussed and discussed as we head into the next short track on the schedule-Martinsville, shows little signs of dying down.

To add to the on-gong unprecedentedness , this race was the closest finish in NASCAR short track history as the entire field finished within 4 laps of the leader.  Coupled with the fact all cars finished the announced distance of 400 Laps just took things to a new level.

Hamlin’s win is his second of the season, and two in the last three races.  He joins last week’s winner, William Byron as the only other multi-race winner of the season.  This is his sixth straight multi-win season and his seventh in the GEN 7 era.  Hamlin got his 53rd career win on his home track and puts him within one win of Hall of Famer and three-time Cup Champ, Lee Petty.  He is now within 7 wins of his personal goal of 60 wins and 10 wins behind the next active Cup driver, Kyle Busch at 63 wins.

Denny had no Stage 1 points before getting a P5 finish in Stage 2.  Three other drivers accumulated more points than Hamlin (which having the leader not come away with the most points for a race is a personal peeve of mine) but his 46 points earned moved him to third in Regular Season points, behind Points Leader, Martin Truex, Jr.and Kyle Larson.  Truex, Jr.’s 50 points allowed him to expand his points lead to 15 points.

Before the Easter Bunny called it a night, the thin crowd, along with the 3.310 million viewers at home who tuned in saw a typical Richmond strategy race developing punctuated by a couple of cautions that it could have done without.

Toyota was the race sponsor and saw the #11 Toyota bring home the trophy.  Joey Logano followed in his Ford and Stage 1 winner, Kyle Larson was the top Chevy in P3.  A less than happy Truex, Jr. won Stage 2 and finished fourth, followed by a solid finish by Chase Elliott.  Christopher Bell, last week’s winner William Byron, RFK’s duo of Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher finished Positions 6-9, with Tyler Reddick rounding out the Top Ten.  

Below are the statistical results for the 2024 version of the Richmond:

Race Breakdown

Here is a statistical breakdown of the passing and lead changes we saw at Richmond:

Total Lead Changes-16 among 7 Leaders. Martin Truex, Jr. lead 5 times for a race high 228 Laps.

Green Flag Lead Changes (P1) 11

– Leader Pit – 7

– Start/Restart – 3

– Racing Lead Changes – 1, Kyle Larson – 1

Quality Passes less P1 (P2-P15) – 976

Non-QP Passes (P16-P37) – 2743

Overall Passes – 26% of the 3740 Green Flag Passes took place in the front 42% of the field, so passing was distributed to the back of the field (P16+) 

Total Green Flag Passes – 3740 for 10.6/Green Flag Lap.  

Margin of Victory – Hamlin’s 0.269 second win over Joey Logano

Winning Pass- Hamlin’s winning pass came on Lap 401 when Hamlin passed leader Martin Truex, Jr. on pit exit.

Winning Run-Hamlin led the final 7 laps of the race, 2 were in the Final Green-White-Checkers.   

Most Green Flag Passes – 171 Ryan Blaney 

Most Quality Passes– 72 Christopher Bell

Racing Lead Changes (after seven races)

Kyle Larson made the only Racing Lead Change for the race on Lap 6, when he passed Bubba Wallace for the lead.  This meant they ran over 400 laps without any driver actually passing a driver for the lead unless the leader pitted or the field was bunched on a restart.  With that pass he pulled into within 1 of the RLC Leaders, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.  Here is the overall breakdown up to this point:

11 – Kyle BuschDenny Hamlin 

10 – Kyle Larson (+1) 

9 – Ryan Blaney  

 7 – Martin Truex, Jr. 

 6 – Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs 

 4 – Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland

 3 – Austin Cindric,

 2 – Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, William Byron 

 1 – Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Corey LaJoie, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger, Bubba Wallace 

21 different drivers have made a total of 86 Racing Lead Changes in the first seven races of the season.

Richmond’s 1 RCL over the 335 Racing Laps (Total Laps – Caution Flag Laps – Start/Restart Laps), is the fewest RLC’s for a race this season.  Last week’s race at COTA had 2.  The highest is Atlanta with 30.

Final Thoughts

As the Easter Richmond race hops off into the history books, it left a few lasting impressions.

Wet weather racing on ovals seemed to play out better than anticipated. The race went off with little delay, they were able to race without wading up any cars and everyone came through it safely.  The tires and the racing as the track dried went well.  Some adjustments to pre-race procedures to allow for drying pit road that would reduce the length of caution flag laps would further improve the fan product when this situation is encountered in the future. 

Felt sorry for Martin Truex, Jr.  Sure thought he had it in the bag.  Once again, it just goes to show that you can’t count on anything until the Checkered Flag drops… and even then, that may be a little early.  He hasn’t found Victory Lane yet and for a couple of unfortunate racing deals, he could be a multi-race winner.  His time’s coming.

Was good to see Joey Logano finally have a nice finish with his first P5 of the season.  I’d like to have seen if he could have caught Truex, Jr. in those final laps had the race stayed Green.  That finish may have been a lot better to talk about than what fans are discussing today.

Speaking of the finish, I don’t blame Denny Hamlin for doing what he did, nor the other drivers for doing what they did on that final restart.  That’s racing and each did what they thought they could do to gain an advantage and get the win.  My rub is more with NASCAR and the way they have handled the situation so far.  As troubling as it is playing out, I’m more concerned with what steps are going to be taken to improve consistency.  So far, I’m not hearing anything.  Hopefully, this will be a learning experience that can be used to move things in a positive direction.

Along the same lines, the Lap 170 Caution for Kyle Busch’s brush with the wall seemed to raise some eyebrows as similar situations have seen the race remain green.  The Caution Flag Committee proved to be on their game with their lightening fast response.

Photo from Frontstetch

Speaking on consistency or the lack thereof, Xfinity driver, Joey Gase was fined $5,000 for his rear panel toss.  Elton Sawyer and several talking heads explained he was fined because it was a safety issue as he did not follow the rules and stay with his car after the wreck and remain with the NASCAR official until he got into the vehicle to be transported to the infield care center.  It reminded me of an earlier Cup incident where a driver did not stay with his vehicle, did not remain under the control of the NASCAR official, went to the other vehicle and repeatedly shoved the driver, walked back to the pits after pushing past another NASCAR official.  The driver was subsequently suspended for his on-track actions, but NASCAR made it very clear no action was taken for the post-wreck actions.  I’m having trouble seeing how Joey Gase’s post-wreck actions deserve a larger penalty than the Cup situation that was far more egregious for rules violations.

Maybe I’m not looking in the right place or in the right direction, but I’m not seeing a noticeable difference with the new Short Track Package.  Overall, it looked like a Richmond race-lift on racing and heavy on pit strategy.  Green Flag Passes and Racing Lead Changes are again down from last year’s package.  The three races where the package have been used are the three lowest ranked race in the Jeff Gluck’s “Was This a Good Race” fan poll.  We’ll get another data point this weekend.  Hopefully, it will reverse the Short Track Package’s trend this season… but unless there is another factor thrown in with it (like a different tire) I’m not that encouraged.  I’d really like to be wrong.

An Easter race always stirs up the “Should We Race on Easter” discussion and Richmond was no different.  This year, we did not race on Dirt, had Chase Elliott back, had the NETFLIX, @IcyVert, Daytona Crashing Finish, Atlanta Record Finish, Bristol Record Lead Change/Tire “Situation”, Explosive Social Media Growth Effects in play with five weeks in a row of positive TV viewership growth, little to no direct competition with March Madness and still had a 648,000 drop in viewership when compared to last year’s Easter race.  The crowd shots shown on TV were nothing to write home about either.  I’m sure NASCAR, Richmond and the Broadcast partners have some measure for “success”, but find it hard to believe a 16+% drop with so many factors going for it against so little competition is what they had in mind.  I guess if that’s success, race on.  Continuing on in the face of downward trends is hardly unprecedented.  

On to 400 Laps at the Paperclip.  Can Toyota continue to flex their Short Track muscle or will HMS come through with another commemorative win in this on-going unprecedented season?  We’ll find out soon enough and talk about it next week.

Thunder On… and Stay Safe!

David Nance

Photo Credit (cover): Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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