RICHMOND, Va._ Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin were the class of the field during Saturday night’s Matthew & Daniel Hanson 400. Leading a combined 273 of the 400 laps, the teammates stretched the fuel mileage and swept the first two spots, giving team owner Joe Gibbs his fifth straight Richmond win.
While the two cars were equal throughout, Busch spent the majority of the evening at the front of the field leading 235 laps. However, when varying pit strategies mixed things up late in the race, Busch’s stellar restart ability was all the difference he needed to secure the victory.
“He’s just so good on restarts,” Hamlin said. “He was making up a lot of ground and once he got out front he kind of set his own pace and that’s something that’s very important on this track.”
“Once you commit yourself to where you’re going, you pretty much got to stick with your gut, do what you got to do to get through there,” Busch said. “I think it’s been the past couple times here I’ve been able to do that. I think last year I passed Jeff (Gordon) on the outside to win the race on a restart. It’s a product of this racetrack. Sometimes you just hope it sticks.”
Between the two teammates, they have combined to win the last five Richmond races with Busch taking the last three spring races and Hamlin winning the last two fall races.
“I learned from Denny Hamlin last year, last fall,” Busch said. “I’m not going to say what I learned, but he may know.”
“I opened my mouth, I should have never told,” Hamlin joked. “That’s the thing, if I don’t tell him the things I know on short tracks and crew chiefs don’t relay information then it’s not a good team. Obviously we’ve gotten paid back on the bigger, intermediate tracks. I’ve learned from him and talked to him. So, yeah, it might cost me a race here or there because he outruns me, but I think in the grand scheme of things it makes me a better driver.”
Earlier in the week, a racing blog circulated a rumor about a potential crew chief swap between Hamlin and Joey Logano, yet Saturday’s performance showed JGR is on their way back to the top. The rumor was just that, a rumor, and team president J.D. Gibbs simply shrugged off the source of the news source, saying things are coming together after the slow start to the season.
“I think anytime, we haven’t been running like we’re used to running, so that’s a concern,” said Gibbs. “It was nice to put it to bed. Our guys did get a kick out of it. It’s one of those things that when you’re running not as well as you’re used to, people are used to seeing you up front, they start asking questions, leap to crazy conclusions. For us, it was nice tonight to have a good race all the way around for all our teams.”
While Busch and Hamlin dominated out front, Kasey Kahne was able overcome recent knee surgery to finish third – his best finish of the year. Starting from the fourth spot, Kahne was a fixture in the top 5 for much of the evening.
“The Gibbs guys were the guys to beat again here,” he said. “We came to third, so that was good. I felt strong where we kind of ended up tonight, how things went, how things played out throughout the race. There’s a lot of cars from that third to seventh, eighth, ninth, somewhere in there, that were probably pretty similar. You go a little bit here and there on some of the adjustment throughout the race.
“Our guys did a really nice job. But we definitely need to keep working to catch up to a few of these other guys.”
David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 10. Edwards heads to Darlington the points leader with a nine point margin over Johnson.