Denny Hamlin has finished no worse than 11th in this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, but extending that streak at Richmond was no small task.
Hamlin was leader of the fast-qualifying drivers forced to start at the rear of the Toyota Owners 400 field after their cars failed inspection. He finished fifth, the only penalized driver to wind up inside the top 10.
“We really closed on the leaders there at the end,” Hamlin said. “We were fast — really fast — the last 20 laps. We just didn’t have enough time. We battled from the back and really couldn’t gain a whole lot on restarts, but just really grinded our way two or three positions each run and found our way up in the top five there at the end.
“I could at least see the leaders. Certainly, a great day for our FedEx Camry. We wanted to win, but we just didn’t have the winning car. We would have liked to have tuned it during [final practice], we just didn’t have enough time.”
But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver noted on Twitter what seemed to be a significant factor for him and his peers: Coming through the field was “hard … like really hard.”
Consider how the other front runners who were penalized fared in the 400:
- Jimmie Johnson finished 12th after briefly breaking into the lower half of the top 10 following the final round of pit stops. He did not score any stage points.
- Erik Jones finished 14th after having an up and down race. Jones looked strong early and did score points in Stage 2 by finishing eighth. But his run in the top 10 ended when the team put a wheel spacer on the right front tire during a pit stop.
- Chase Elliott finished 15th. Like his teammate Johnson, Elliott didn’t score stage points and had an average running position of 18th.
- Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola finished 18th and 23rd, respectively. Both drivers were done in by speeding penalties, which occurred on their final pit stops. Throughout the 400-mile race, Almirola only made it as high as 12th while Suarez appeared to be the best of the drivers who failed inspection group. He steadily climbed the leaderboard, sitting 22nd by Lap 20, finishing Stage 1 in 10th place, sixth in Stage 2, running as high as fourth before the penalty ruined his day.