NASCAR continued to have surprise winners this season at Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400. Alex Bowman started P24, was caught speeding on pit row on Lap 240, and still managed to pass hometown hero Denny Hamlin with 10 to go for the win at Richmond Raceway. Those 10 laps were the only ones he led all day.
It was Bowman’s first victory since the third race of 2020 - the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, California - and it vaulted him into the playoffs with two-thirds of NASCAR's regular season yet to be run. He became the 53rd different driver to take the checkers at this Richmond, winning for the third time in his Cup Series career.
“We just had a great race car; it’s as simple as that,” said Bowman right after climbing out of his car. “Greg Ives (Crew Chief) and all the guys, they have to deal with me at short tracks, and I drive these places really wrong. We kind of, instead of trying to make me figure it out, we went to work on getting the race car where I needed it to be. Greg has done such an amazing job at making that happen.”
For the first time since 2008, a Hendrick Motorsports car found its way into the Richmond Raceway winner’s circle.
“To be honest with you, we were terrible on short runs,” Bowman continued. “We restarted third, and I’m like, man, if we get out of here with a solid top 5, we’ll be good. We’ve overcome a lot today. I don’t know if Greg pumped the pressures way up or what he did, but that’s more grip than I’ve ever had in a race car at Richmond, and it worked out really well. Getting to race a guy like Denny (Hamlin) at a place that this is really cool. I feel like we raced each other really clean, so I’m appreciative of that. It means a lot.”
Bowman talked about one of his crew members who lost his life in the offseason. Tire carrier William “Rowdy” Harrell and his new wife, Blakley, tragically died during their honeymoon in a car accident in Florida.
“First and foremost, got to thank Ally and Chevrolet; everyone at Hendrick Motorsports," said Bowman. "This one is for Rowdy and his family. Miss him and Blakley every day. Just means the world to be able to win for Ally. It’s definitely emotional, obviously, with how hard the off-season was on us. Appreciative for the opportunity, and we have more races to win this year.”
Rounding out the top 10 were Hamlin, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, and Austin Dillon. Truex and Busch were both pinged for speeding on pit row.
Hamlin, who was trying to break a season-long winless streak, led 207 of 400 laps at his home track. He grew up about a half-hour away in Chesterfield, Virginia. His last victory came at Talladega last season, which is where NASCAR is headed next week.
“We just didn’t take off quite as good there at the end," Hamlin said. "I tried to warm it up and do everything that I could – just the 48 (Alex Bowman) had a little more on those last few laps and I couldn’t hold the bottom. Once he got the position, we were just shut down there. Great job by this FedEx Ground team. First and foremost, we want to think of all of the families in Indy right now. Awful tragedy to happen there. Our thoughts and prayers are with these names. We will get them. We will keep digging. We are dominating – just have to finish it.”
There were only two race-related cautions and 20 lead changes among seven drivers.
NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 Prerace Notes:
The NASCAR Cup series director told teams around noon to remove full right-side windows and use the smaller abbreviated ones. The change was made because of temperatures, making things cooler for the drivers, and done while cars were on pit row. The window is for safety reasons to keep anything from flying into the vehicle as opposed to the driver-side net.
Between Kevin Harvick (9), Denny Hamlin (7), Chase Elliott (5), and Brad Keselowski (4), the foursome had 25 NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2020. This year? Zero.
Unlike the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday, NASCAR announced a competition caution on Lap 30 because there was no practice or qualifying. Each team has nine sets of Goodyear tires for the race. The green flag fuel run is between 110-120 laps. Richmond Raceway is celebrating its 75th season.
Entering the Toyota Owners 400, no NASCAR Cup Series driver has won from pole this year.
This is the ninth race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, the one-third mark of the regular season.