Friday night under the lights at Richmond International Raceway often proves to be a fierce battle of skill and strategy; tonight was no exception. As fans, we are used to seeing the field peppered with some of the hottest Sprint Cup double dippers, but Friday night’s Bubba Burger 250 played host to only a small handful: most notable Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski.
As anticipated, pole sitter Edwards took the lead on the first lap and maintained it comfortably until Hamlin, who started in 11th position made his way through the field and on lap 44 slid under Edwards No. 60 Ford Mustang on turn four to take the lead.
Edwards quickly lost ground to Kenny Wallace and Aric Almirola as well and by lap 71 found himself in the fourth position.
Lap 80 proved to be the start of tire issues for Brad Keselowski, thinking that his No. 22 Dodge Challenger was suffering a flat tire. He slows dramatically on the backstretch before darting onto pit road.
On lap 83, Keselowski brakes hard in turn three, producing a smoke cloud from the tires and nearly taking out Brian Scott in the process.
Hamlin lapped pole-sitter and fellow Sprint Cup competitor, Edwards on lap 98. With no cautions in sight, the drivers began making their green-flag pit stops around lap 100.
At lap 105, after a round of green-flag pit stops, Hamlin resumes the lead, followed by Kenny Wallace, Aric Almirola, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. With just ten cars on the lead lap at lap 107, Hamlin has a solid 6.5 second lead over 2nd place of Wallace’s No. 09 Toyota Camry.
Kelly Bires spun out on lap 124 in turn -four bringing out the first caution of the night, two laps later all lead-lap cars were back on pit road.
The green flag waved on lap 131 with Hamlin leading the field ahead of Almirola, Wallace, Stenhouse Jr. and Menard.
Almirola quickly took the lead from Hamlin in turn one on lap 132 only to have it reclaimed by Hamlin on lap 137 between turns three and four with Stenhouse Jr. in tow to take over the second spot.
With Hamlin in the lead, the battle for position between Almirola, Stenhouse Jr. and Menard ran hot for the next 60 laps.
With 41 laps to go, Charles Lewandoski slid through turns three and four almost losing control and slowing dramatically, but made it to pit road without bringing out the caution.
Lap 217 brought more bad luck for Edwards, as he slows on the track, his Ford out of gas. After pitting, on lap 220 Edwards’ car stalls at the end of pit road, seven laps later he returns to the track five laps down in 24th place.
There are only four cars on the lead by lap 232, Hamlin, Stenhouse Jr, Almirola and Wallace. Four quickly become just three as Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 6 machine runs out of gas and limps slowly around the field on lap 242.
The yellow flag waved for the second time on lap 244 as Stenhouse Jr.’s car rolls to a stop in turn two. The caution worked to Menard’s advantage as his car runs out of gas on the backstretch on lap 245 but makes it to pit road along with Hamlin for one last, quick pit stop.
The green flag waved one final time on lap 249 with Hamlin in the lead and Menard hot on his trail, but Menard’s efforts were thwarted as Derrick Cope crashed between turns three and four preventing him for making one final hard charge on Hamlin.
Hometown hero Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag making this his 11th career win in the Nationwide series. Paul Menard, Justin Algaier, Elliott Sadler and Aric Almirola rounded out the top five.