Regular Season Wrap-Up
For much of the night it appeared Joe Gibbs Racing would continue its recent winning ways, but late pit strategy under a caution for rain would shuffle the field and leave the team with a disappointing finish in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Kyle Busch would finish with a disappointing 16th-place finish that left him out of the Chase by the slimmest of margins. Denny Hamlin, who dominated much of the night and will enter the Chase as the top seed based on his Series leading four wins, finished 18th, while Joey Logano battled handling conditions all night to finish 30th.
Busch, who entered the night in the second of two wild card positions for a place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, started in the 15th position, but quickly managed to drive his way into the top ten and had settled into the eighth position through the first quarter of the race. Busch would remain inside the top ten when the race would get red flagged due to rain on lap 152. After nearly an hour delay, the race resumed and the 18 crew was able to make adjustments to his Camry that appeared to help his handling. Busch was among the leaders when a final caution came out on lap 276 for rain once again. Like many of the leaders the decision was made to remain on the track when pit road opened in case the rain picked up and forced the race to be called before completion of the scheduled 400 laps. However, the rain would not last long this time and Busch did not pit prior to the restart. While that allowed him to restart fifth he wasn’t able to remain up front for long on the older tires and a long green flag run would prove costly to his track position. Busch would battle as hard as he could, but was left to finish 16th and unfortunately just outside of the Chase.
Hamlin, who entered tonight having won consecutive races in Bristol and Atlanta, continued the momentum early as he started his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in the seventh position tonight and wasted very little time in driving straight to the front of the field. He would take the lead on lap 59 and lead much of the next stretch of the race before a caution would come out for rain on lap 138. The No. 11 team would deliver another great pit stop under the caution to keep Hamlin on the lead as the rain continued to fall. NASCAR would bring the cars down pit road on lap 152 to red flag the race due to the rain, but after nearly an hour delay the field was able to fire up the engines once again. Hamlin would lead for most of the next 100-plus laps. On the night he led a race-high five times for 202 laps. A final caution would come on lap 276 when rain once again began to fall at the ¾ mile track. Teams were left to guess if this would be the final blow of rain to end the race and as the leader Hamlin made the call to remain on the track. But when the rain dissipated once again, Hamlin was forced to pit for tires and fuel forcing him to restart back in the 15th position. Once the race restarted Hamlin would once again show he had the dominate car driving all the way up to second before having to pit one final time with just a few laps remaining for fuel. The final stop would cost him track position and force him to settle for an an 18th-place finish.
Logano qualified the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the eighth position, but struggled with the handle on his car through the early going and would fall a lap down to his teammate Hamlin during a long green flag run about a third of the way into the race. Unfortunately for Logano the long green flag runs did not prove favorable for his ill-handling car and would drop several laps off the pace over the course of the night and finish in 30th position.
Clint Bowyer would capture the victory, with Jeff Gordon second, Mark Martin third, Tony Stewart fourth, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five. There were six cautions for a total of 41 laps including one red flag for rain that lasted nearly an hour. There were 17 lead changes among 10 different drivers.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships opens next week in Chicago with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Live broadcast coverage by ESPN starts at Noon ET (race begins at 1 PM ET). Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 will also provide live coverage.
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