2009-09-17 / Sports

Hamlin Family Wins At Home Track

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia native Denny Hamlin finally got a win at Richmond, where he had come so close, several times before. He dominated Saturday's Rock & Roll 400, finishing nearly two seconds ahead of Kurt Busch.

"I mentioned before that I wanted to win this race before I won a (Daytona) 500, but now, of course, I know how special that race is to everyone," said Hamlin. "But this one in particular, was especially gratifying after all the heartbreak. It makes it more gratifying to win now.

"I was nervous for the pit crew. I knew what my nerves could do to me. I tried to do everything I could to get in the stall right, and not lose the race on pit road because that's where we lost it a couple times here. So I was nervous for those guys. I knew their eyeballs were popping out of their head to make sure they didn't make a mistake, and they just did what they had to do."

Hamlin, who had already locked up a berth in NASCAR's Chase For the Championship before the race, entered the event with nothing to lose and a noholds barred approach. Starting third, he needed only four laps to gain the lead and he went on to lead the field, seven times for a race-high 299 of 400 laps.

Hamlin's only serious challenge came from Jeff Gordon, who led five times for 97 laps and continued to hound Hamlin until an altercation with Clint Bowyer cost Gordon several positions.

Top-10 finishing order: 1. Denny Hamlin, 2. Kurt Busch, 3. Jeff Gordon, 4. Mark Martin, 5. Kyle Busch, 6. Clint Bowyer, 7. Brian Vickers, 8. Sam Hornish, 9. Kevin Harvick, 10. Ryan Newman.

Brian Vickers finished seventh and clinched the final Chase spot. Hamlin's teammate Kyle Busch fell eight points short. Matt Kenseth, the 2002 Cup champion, also failed to make the cutoff for the first time.

With the points being adjusted for the last 10 races, Mark Martin is the leader.

"I'm certainly going to enjoy that for a week here," said Martin. "I feel like a whole new person, huge weight off my shoulders. It's just like I said before, to make this thing is the icing and now we get to go race for the cake."

"Of course, I'm living in it now, but to me, this is certainly the best year of my career, the most fun, and since Chicago, some of that fun has been sort of smothered out by all of the pressure. We are in, we are out, we are in, all that. But the thing that I'm excited about is our race team has been so strong since Chicago. The cars have gotten better and better on the racetrack, and Chicago, Indy, Bristol, Michigan.

"But anybody in this Chase can win. Every team that's in it is capable of putting together a tenrace row. That's all it takes is the magic 10 races, and anybody can win it."

Tony Stewart was none too pleased with his 17th-place finish.

"I'm disappointed with my effort tonight," he said "I made mistakes as a driver that I normally cuss people for doing, but from an ownership standpoint, I'm ecstatic to have us locked in and extremely proud for Ryan (Newman) and everybody on the U.S. Army team to get themselves locked in."

Jimmie Johnson, the defending Cup champion, finished the race in 11th, but is third in points heading into the Chase.

"I'm optimistic and feel we have a very good chance," said Johnson. "We led a bunch at Michigan and didn't get it done. Bristol we were fast and had troubles. Right now we have the speed."

Carl Edwards dropped four spots and is now ninth in points.

"This season is so much different than last season," he said. "We had six wins or something at this point last season. Right now, we have struggled a little bit as a group, at Roush Fenway, so I feel like this is our opportunity to only be a few points behind the leader, kind of gather all of our energy and all of the things we have been working on and head into these last 10 races full force. So I'm real excited about it and hopefully we can have some good runs and get back up there the way we know we can run."

2009 Chase Contenders for the Sprint Cup Championship: 1. Martin-5040, 2. Stewart-5030, 3. Johnson-5030, 4. Hamlin-5020, 5. Kahne-5020, 6. J. Gordon-5010, 7. Kurt Busch-5010, 8. Vickers- 5010, 9. Edwards-5000, 10. Newman 5000, 11. Montoya-5000, 12. Biffle-5000.

Neither of the three Richard Childress drivers, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, or Kevin Harvick made this year's Chase.

Top-10 Nationwide leaders after 27 of 35: 1. Kyle Busch-4379, 2. Edwards-4178, 3. Keselowski- 4082, 4. Leffler-3599, 5. Allgaier- 3152, 6. S. Wallace-3132, 7. Keller- 2991, 8. Gaughan-2957, 9. Bliss- 2950, 10. McDowell-2902

Top-10 Camping World Truck leaders after 18 of 25: 1. Hornaday 2875, 2. Crafton-2678, 3. Skinner 2662, 4. Scott-2457, 5. Bodine 2389, 6. Braun-2372, 7. Starr- 2310, 8. Peters-2307, 9. Sauter- 2297, 10. Crawford-2297

2010 start times to be more consistent

NASCAR races are expected to have more consistent starting times by the 2010 season. Officials confirmed they are working with the networks to standardize starting times that fans have criticized for years. Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark told reporters last week that the plan is to run most afternoon races at 1:00 p.m./ET and most night races at 7:30 p.m./ET.

Weekend racing: It's on to Loudon, N.H., for the Camping World Trucks and Sprint Cup teams. The Nationwide Series has an off week. This will be the first of 10 races to determine the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship. The season will end November 22, at Homestead, Fla.

Saturday, Sept. 19, Camping World Helluva Good 200, race 19 of 25, starting time: 2:30 p.m. (EDT); TV: Speed.

Sunday, Sept. 20, Sprint Cup Sylvania 300, race 27 of 36, starting time: 1 p.m. (EDT); TV: ABC.

Racing trivia question: Who was the youngest NASCAR driver to win a Cup championship?

Last week's question: Richard Petty has 200 Cup wins. Who is the number-two driver? Answer. David Pearson with 105 victories.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@ earthlink.net

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