September 13, 2009
By Ron Felix
Denny Hamlin won a Sprint Cup race for the first time at his home track, Richmond International Raceway.
Hamlin accomplished the feat by holding off Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon for his second victory of the year, his other one coming at Pocono Raceway in August. It was the sixth win for Hamlin in 141 career races.
CIA Stock Photos
Hamlin Does A Burnout After Home Track Win
Hamlin led seven times for a race-high 298 (of 400) laps to earn the 75th NSCS win for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin’s win marks Toyota’s ninth NSCS win in 2009 and 19th since joining the series in 2007.
“I’ve got to thank the fans -- everyone who’s wearing that number 11 hat or shirt," said an excited Hamlin. "These are the times that I get so excited. I made sure I did everything I did at Pocono. I’ve only worn this hat two times and the other one was at Pocono. I made sure I had my gold heat shields on. Everything from Pocono. I had my grandma’s St. Jude key chain in there. I was just making sure that I covered all bases when we got here today. This is my house. It has been for the last two years, we just haven’t got the win to show it. Finally today our FedEx Toyota showed that we’re a championship contender. As I told these guys, they better watch out for us and now we’re for real.”
Mark Martin, who had never qualified atop the points leader board, finished fourth on the night and will be seeded first because he had more victories in the regular season (4) than the other drivers.
"It was really good to be in the top-five all night," said Martin. "I don't think we ever got further back than fifth. Great pit stop and just everything was good. We had the best pit stall, a great race car, not quite good enough to win with but we could see the leaders all night. The guys just did what we needed to do.
"We needed to finish how we ran and the last two weeks we've done that. So now we go racing. Pressure is off though. Pressure is off, it won't build back up until late - maybe four to go or something. Right now the pressure is off.
"Oh man, great car. Great team. This is the icing. Now we can go race for the cake, see if we can get that. It has been really really incredible but gut-wrenching because we had so many problems. We were 35th in the points after four races. It looked like we were going to have a magical season and miss the Chase. It was nice to have a great run here tonight and have that off our back."
Four-time 2009 race winner Kyle Busch finished fifth, but failed to qualify for the Chase.
“It’s a conglomerate of points that we sacrificed all year," said a dejected and worn-out Busch. "It’s unfortunate for the whole M&M’s organization – Victoria Mars was here tonight hoping that we could make it into the Chase. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to. We didn’t have the best of years to be consistent and unfortunately that bit us. We can always look toward the rest of the year to try to win some races and go out with a bang and try to build on something for next year.
"I’ve been struggling a little bit this year with these cars for some reason. Last year I took to them real quick. Thank Interstate Batteries, Joe (Gibbs) and JD (Gibbs) and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. It wasn’t tonight – it was a good, strong top-five finish. That was a hard battle all night. My arms are sore, my back is sore, but it was fun to be able to race all these guys. (Brian) Vickers put up a whale of a fight there at the end you know.”
Clint Bowyer finished sixth followed by Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman to round out the top ten.
For the first time, Matt Kenseth failed to qualify for the Chase.
“Honestly, we did approach it like any other race," said a crushed Kenseth. "This is about how we ran the last four Richmond races. We just haven’t been competitive, so, really since California it’s been a downhill slide for us. We’ve slowly fell back in the points every week, so I can’t say I’m very surprised we didn’t make it, but we’ve been working on it hard, we’re just weak in a few areas. We need to figure out why because none of our cars really run the way they should. I wish we weren’t in this spot, but we did the best we could and we’ll try again next week.
"We’re always trying to get better, we just haven’t been able to do it," Kenseth continued. "We’re missing something, in my opinion, with the organization to start with to make all of our cars faster because Carl hasn’t won a race all year and he won nine of them last year. I think we need to really look hard at engineering and some of the stuff we’re doing to make these cars run to start with, and on the 17 we need a little work, too. We’ve been inconsistent on pit road. I’ve been inconsistent. I missed the pit box tonight. There are certain things I can do better as well, so we just need to evaluate the whole thing and try to get back to where it needs to be. The first year they had the chase we had five of us in there and we just have to keep working at it.”
Making the Chase for the first time was Brian Vickers and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Vickers was one happy driver when the race was over and although he and Kyle Busch raced side-by-side several time during the race, both drivers were focused on the job at hand..
“Kyle (Busch) and I have had our differences. I have to give him credit," Vickers related. "Kyle (Busch) raced me very hard and very clean tonight. We had a great battle a couple times racing each other. He raced me with the utmost respect and I appreciate that. Ever since our little bout at Michigan, we’ve had some great races together. Haven’t had any problems since then. I have to be honest with you, at this race track that is probably not the person I would have picked to have to battle to get into the Chase. They’re really good here as a team, he’s really good here as a driver, but we’re happy that we got it done.”
Kurt Busch was sad to see his younger brother Kyle not make the Chase.
“When I did hear that he didn’t make it, I slid down next to my car and thought for a moment what eight points mean in this sport," said Busch. "I was on the fortunate side of winning the (NASCAR) championship by eight points back in 2004 and to see my little brother not make it, it’s devastating. You always hope that you have the most bullets in the gun for the Busch family, a shot at winning the championship.
"They had a great start to their season. They won at tracks that you expected to win on, then they struggle on tracks that we didn’t expect them to struggle at. So, eight points for him is tough. His sun will rise again. He’ll have a shot at coming back and their season is not lost. They’re still going to be one of the toughest guys to beat for wins week-in-and-week-out now that he’s not even running for points which fits his mentality. This could be a good lesson-learned too…you don’t have to win them all…but you have to run consistent. I’m sure he’s been told that 100 times. It’s just tough to see the kid not make the Chase.”
Joey Logano finished 14th and was rookie of the race.
The Sprint Cup Series moves to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday night for the first race in the "Chase for the Championship." Greg Biffle was the winner of this race last year.
The race will also be broadcast live on PRN Radio and SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.
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