RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Denny Hamlin is not offering any apologies for the move he made last weekend at Pocono that caused Kyle Larson to hit the wall and let Hamlin sail on to victory.
Truth be told, it’s what NASCAR was hoping to see more of when it established the system that divides races into three stages, rewards drivers with points for doing well in those stages and allows them to accrue playoff points, Hamlin said.
“That is what it was geared to do — give us the sense of urgency to ramp up and that regular season performance matters to get to the final four with a shot,” he said at Richmond Raceway. “The system is doing what it was designed to do.”
Hamlin also has changed, he said, after getting spun several times while leading.
“If you have one person willing to be aggressive and one person not, aggressive will win every time,” he said.
Larson, who said things are “fine” between he and Hamlin after they exchanged text messages Friday night, agreed that the point system encourages the aggressive approach Hamlin took, but added that it “makes the guys on the receiving end more mad as well just because of what’s at stake and what’s taken.”
Larson said four or five restart battles with Kyle Busch at World Wide Technology Raceway in June showed how cleanly he tries to race other drivers.
“I respect Kyle and that’s why I raced him with respect at Gateway, and I respect Denny every bit as much, if not more, or I did,” he said.
“I tend to blow things over pretty quickly,” Larson said. “This time, I probably have let it linger on my attitude a little bit this week just because it’s happened more often with him than any other driver in my career and also a win was taken.”
Larson won the first Richmond race this season in April.
William Byron has dropped 30 points behind Martin Truex Jr. in the points race with five races remaining before the playoffs begin. The regular season champion gets a 15-point bonus, but Byron doesn’t expect to make any changes to the way he’s racing while trying to secure that top spot and bonus.
“It’s really important but we can’t get too focused on the result of the regular season points,” he said. “We obviously want those points, but our process has been like it is to this point, and if we start focusing on that carrot out in front of us too much, it’s going to get us off-track.”
Chase Elliott said Richmond is “such a weird place” where his car never feels good, but he was pleased to make the second round of qualifying. He’ll start fourth.
“Any position you can gain is good ahead of 10th,” Elliott said. “I also know this is a place where you can qualify really good and be really bad.”
Elliott missed six races with an injury and another while serving a suspension. He hasn’t won yet and likely will need to win to make the playoffs. He’s 21st in points.
“There’s a few guys that I feel like have been consistently good at this track and the rest of us are kind of hit or miss,” Elliott said. “Hopefully we can hit it tomorrow and just put together a solid day, try to get some stage points and just get up in the mix.”
The temperature was near 100 degrees when the cars went out for qualifying, and the heat index made it feel even hotter. It’s expected to be about 90 on Sunday.
“There’s less grip and more emphasis on tire management,” Brad Keselowski said. “It will be a different race here than it was in the spring, for sure.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Truex and Larson are the betting favorites Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.