RICHMOND, Va. – Alex Bowman took advantage of a late-race restart to secure his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season during Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Bowman was an unlikely winner as most of the race had been dominated by Denny Hamlin, with Joey Logano coming on strong late in the race to challenge for the victory during the final 100 laps.
Logano had managed to get by Hamlin during a long green flag run with 66 laps to go, but Hamlin never let Logano get away after both drivers made green flag pit stops. Bowman, meanwhile, was running in third more than 10 seconds behind the lead duo.
Logano and Hamlin began to battle for the lead with less than 30 laps left, with Hamlin consistently sticking his nose under Logano’s No. 22. However, the battle was halted with 20 laps left when the right-rear tire on Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 failed and he backed his Ford into the wall to bring out the caution flag.
The leaders brought the few remaining lead lap cars down pit road for the final round of pit stops, with Hamlin barely beating Logano out of the pits. Bowman followed them off pit road in third to set up the final restart with 12 laps left.
When racing resumed Hamlin got a strong launch into turn one and was able to clear Logano to take the lead. However, behind them Bowman roared to life as he dispatched Logano for second before turning his attention to Hamlin.
Bowman immediately drove under Hamlin and with 10 laps left he moved the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet into the race lead. He stretched his lead out briefly, but Hamlin soon began to close back in on Bowman’s bumper as the laps clicked off.
However, Bowman had built enough of a cushion to hang on and crossed the finish line .381 seconds ahead of Hamlin to become the eighth different race winner in nine events this season.
“To be honest with you, we were terrible on short runs,” Bowman said. “We restarted third and I’m like ‘Man, if we get out of here with a solid top-five, 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 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.”
The victory also Bowman’s first since taking over the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that was vacated by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson at the end of last year.
Johnson made his NTT IndyCar Series debut earlier Sunday afternoon, finishing 19th.
“There are so many different things going on right now that I almost didn’t remember that,” Bowman said of Johnson making his IndyCar debut. “It’s really special for a lot of reasons.”
Hamlin’s second-place finish was his eighth top-five finish in nine races this year and leaves him with a commanding lead in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. However, he was still frustrated after watching another victory slip away.
“We just didn’t take off very good there,” Hamlin said. “Definitely the worse that our car took off after a restart. The 48 (Bowman) I’m guessing had his tires pumped up and he was able to take off there and get the lead and then build a lead that I didn’t have enough time to get back to him.”
Logano settled for third, followed by the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr.
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