While Denny Hamlin picked up his third victory, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray all secured their spots in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff in Saturday night’s regular season finale.
Hamlin started on the pole and had the better car for much of the evening, but needed a good restart with two laps remaining to solidify the win. He achieved that by building up enough of a cushion to withstand a furious charge from Kyle Larson, who restarted 12th on fresher tires but ran out time to catch Hamlin.
“Just a great restart,” Hamlin said. “I think that was key for us, is to get into turn one cleared and did everything we needed to do to win the race. So glad we didn’t let it slip away. It would have definitely hurt to let it slip away on the last restart if we would have.”
It was Hamlin’s third Richmond win, the track located in his native Virginia. Martin Truex Jr. placed third, with Brad Keselowski fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth. Kasey Kahne, who needed a win to qualify for the Chase, finished sixth followed by McMurray, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano completing the top 10.
“I see all the extra Denny Hamlin shirts and hats and everything and fires me up every time I get here,” Hamlin said.
A track-record 16 cautions slowed the race. The biggest incident of the night saw Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart tangle, triggering a multi-car crash that culminated with Dylan Lupton’s car sitting atop Newman’s and wedged against the outside wall. NASCAR red flagged the race 20 minutes to clear the three-quarter mile track.
Later, an upset Newman sounded off on Stewart, calling the soon-to-be retiring three-time series champion old and someone dealing with anger management issues. The crash assured Newman, who entered Richmond as the first driver just outside the Chase cutoff, would not make the postseason.
“Going down the back straightaway there, I guess he thought he was in a sprint car again—did not know how to control his anger,” Newman said. “It’s just disappointing that you’ve got somebody old like that, that should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous.”
Buescher needed just a decent result to maintain a spot inside the top 30 in points, therefore advancing to the Chase. Despite several close calls, including getting swept into the Newman-Stewart kerfuffle, the rookie finished 24th and will be among the 16 drivers championship-eligible when the playoffs begin next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
Also locking up their spots were Elliott, Dillon and McMurray all of whom were winless during the regular season, but transferred based off their points ranking. Buescher earned eligibility with a surprise weather-shortened win August 1 at Pocono Raceway.
“It was a crazy race,” Buescher said. “I can’t believe how many cautions we had. We got involved in one of the accidents, had a tire go down, just a very eventful day.”