Denny Hamlin shaved off a big chunk of his deficit to the race lead but ran out of time to challenge his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate for the race win Sunday night at Richmond Raceway.
Hamlin finished second to Martin Truex Jr. by 1.4s in the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders. Hamlin swept both stages and led a race-high 197 of 400 laps. In the end, Hamlin noted that two laps might have been the difference in getting to Truex.
“That’s really what I needed,” Hamlin said. “We got a little bit off track with our car in the middle of the race, but there, in the end, we definitely made the right adjustments and was coming. Just a little bit too late.”
Despite coming up short, Hamlin has been the best driver in the first two playoff races. Before his runner-up effort at Richmond, Hamlin won the opening race at Darlington. Between both races, Hamlin has led 343 laps and won three of the four stages.
“Well, it’s go time now,” Hamlin said of the No. 11 team. “Ultimately, it’s time where you’ve got to bring your best. All JGR teams had fast cars for all of us today, and I really wish we would have got two in a row, but regardless, still a great day for our team.”
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Gibbs went 1-2-3 with Truex, Hamlin, and Christopher Bell. Kyle Busch finished ninth after a speeding penalty but had been in the mix as the organization ran first through fourth ahead of the final round of pit stops.
It was the last set of tops, under green flag conditions, that fell Truex’s way. Busch had been the race leader but was called for speeding, and when Truex pitted a lap earlier than the competition, he cycled to the front with 50 laps to go by over eight seconds on Hamlin.
Hamlin cut the lead to four seconds with 12 laps to go, and it was under three seconds with seven laps to go.
“Just a couple more (laps),” said Hamlin. “But our pit stops were a little slow there, and we lost about two or three seconds, maybe four, on pit road those two stops. We were coming, just got off track with our car right there in the middle stages of the race, but overall, Chris [Gabehart] and the team made great adjustments there at the end on the FedEx Camry. Just needed a couple more laps, that’s all.”