Denny Hamlin took his shot, but didn’t execute when given the chance to battle Chris Buescher for the race win Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway.
Hamlin admitted he went for the Hail Mary in Turn 1 on the final restart to try and overtake Buescher. It was all Hamlin could do against Buescher’s race-winning pace and dominant run in the second half of the race.
“There were so many things I did wrong on those last few laps,” Hamlin said after finishing second. “But honestly, you still want to capitalize on them, for sure, because I thought that our speed was still better those last few laps.
“But, yeah, I was so close to him into Turn 1 when I shipped it in there, I had no air on the nose and the left-front tires just locked all the way up. Just bad driving on the initial restart and bad driving into Turn 1 took us out.”
Buescher was leading Hamlin by over five seconds when the caution flew with 10 laps to go. It was the only natural caution of the race, giving Hamlin and the field a chance to pit for tires one last time before the restart.
Buescher and Hamlin came off pit road first and second, just as they’d entered. Buescher chose the inside lane for the restart and Hamlin took the outside. It was a clean restart for Buescher, who got broke away in the lead. It was with two laps to go that Hamlin “shipped it” into Turn 1 and slid up the racetrack.
Without having reviewed the tape, Hamlin wasn’t sure where the RFK Racing cars were better than the field. Buescher and Brad Keselowski combined to lead 190 of 400 laps.
“I’m not really sure, but they certainly had more grip than we did,” Hamlin said. “Hats off to them. I know as a small two-car organization, how hard it is to get to this point, so hats off to Brad and Fenway Group and Steve Newmark for what they put on the racetrack today.”
Hamlin led three times for 20 laps and earned points in both stages. And early in the day, it was Hamlin and his two 23XI Racing cars that were pacing the field in the top three positions.
“It was just a day where I thought I was going to get beat by my own stuff,” Hamlin said. “That team has really struggled at this racetrack, and they worked closely with the 11 car this week, and I worked hard on the sim for all three cars. We came here with the same stuff, and we all ran about the same until some stuff happened in the middle of the race.
“I thought the RFK cars were just a little better in the middle of stages and we had a different strategy there at times, but we always would cycle back to second. So, it just seems like they were a little bit better than us, and luckily for us, we had a late-race caution to kind of give us a chance.”