Camry driver Denny Hamlin won Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) race at Virginia’s Richmond International Raceway.
The Chesterfield, Va.-native led three times for 199 laps (of 251) to earn his 11th career NNS victory, and his sixth in a Camry.
The win was the fifth of the 2011 season for Toyota and the 59th triumph for a Camry since joining series competition in 2007.
Ryan Truex also earned a top-10 finish for Toyota with an eighth-place result — his first top-10 in the series.
Camry drivers Steve Wallace (111th), Kenny Wallace (13th), Brian Scott (15th), Michael Annett (16th) and Kelly Bires (30th) were also in the field.
Five Camry drivers are currently in the top-20 in the unofficial NNS point standings following nine of 35 2011 races in the season — Scott (eighth), K. Wallace (ninth), S. Wallace (11th), Annett (12th) and Truex (16th).
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 20 SportClips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 1st How excited are you to win at your hometown track? “I’m just so proud to give Adam Stevens (crew chief) his first win in the 20 car. These guys have been battling to get this team where it needed to be and they definitely showed by their performance tonight. I can’t thank everyone from SportClips enough for supporting this program, supporting me on the Cup and Nationwide side. It’s just everyone at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), Toyota, Coke, Gillette, everyone from Nike and Jordan brand. Thank them for their support this year. And I’ve got to thank the fans. They’ve just been great for coming out here tonight. Wiley X, FedEx — everyone who puts their time and money into this program. It makes it worthwhile when you have days like this.”
What did you think when your crew chief told you to start saving fuel? “It’s just hard to tell a driver, ‘Slow down. Slow down.’ It’s completely out of our mentality. He had a plan and knew we were right there on the number. I had a feeling we were going to make it. I felt pretty comfortable about that. Man, it’s a great feeling to win here at Richmond.”
How big is this weekend? “It’s been good for sure. Obviously, we knew this was a big weekend in general for myself to kind of get back on track on the Cup side. I needed a few good nights before the Cup race to kind of get the ball rolling so everything has been good so far this week. Obviously, the win last night and then tonight was a little bit bigger so hopefully we just continue that ladder.”
What did you shoot for your ‘record’ round of golf? “It wasn’t great. I shot an 81, but for a 23 handicap that’s pretty damn good.” How does it feel to come home and get some wins after a tough start to the season on the Cup side? “Any small victory goes a long way. Maybe I won last night because I had a record round of golf on Wednesday — I don’t know. It’s just one big snowball that’s just rolling and rolling and hopefully it goes on and continues on. For me, this is a particularly special win because I started my career with the 20 car and basically built, I felt like, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nationwide program to what it is now. It’s good to see these guys back in victory lane. We were able to get Kevin Kidd (No. 11 crew chief) his first win last year and obviously Adam (Stevens, crew chief) this year. JGR is so deep within their personnel they are able to just put guys in positions and they’re able to succeed because of the people around them and what they’ve learned. Adam is just another, I guess you could say chip off the old block as far as the crew chiefs at JGR continuing to be successful.”
Were you nervous about fuel mileage as the race winded down? “The good thing about it is we’re not racing for points, we’re racing for wins. I say we’re not racing for points, but the 20 car is up there in the owner’s points so we’ve got to protect that. We’re out here to win and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) is out here to win. We’re going to do everything we can. I guarantee if he said we were three laps short we were going to make a way to make it to the end.”
ADAM STEVENS, crew chief, No. 20 SportClips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing How does it feel to get your first win as a crew chief? “Well, you know, it’s pretty special. Obviously, you know if you bring Denny Hamlin to Richmond you have a good shot. You just give him what he wants and what he asks for and if you can give it to him he’ll be there.”
ADAM STEVENS, crew chief, No. 20 SportClips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) How close would the fuel issue have been for you if there wasn’t a caution late in the race? “The way we had it figured we were fortunate early in the race to have a long green flag run so we had a good read on our actual fuel mileage. Obviously, on the short runs you can’t use those. By the numbers we were two laps to the good. I was just banking on that we had a lead and it would’ve been foolish for me not to back him (Denny Hamlin) down and not maintain that lead when the people behind us were saving fuel. They were kind of keying off of us. We were to the good side.”
RYAN TRUEX, No. 99 Aaron’s Toyota Camry, Pastrana-Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 8th How was your race tonight? “We had a good race. We didn’t start off that great. We were all over the place there, but these guys worked hard and Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) made good calls and did everything right. Got our car fixed up and got our laps back and just never gave up. We kept fighting and got ourselves a top-10.”
How excited are you to get your first top-10 in the series? “It’s my first top-10 in the series so it feels like a win to me. We worked hard at it tonight. We’ve been battling this whole year. We struggled with the race cars and getting the handle on these new race cars. Gelling with me and my new crew chief (Jerry Baxter) and having a whole new team and everyone behind us, it’s been a little while to get gelling. I feel like we’re really making some strides and we made a lot of progress today in the race. We started out I think a lap or two down and I think we ended up getting it back. Just raced hard all night, followed them and never gave up and ended up with a good finish. I’m proud of all of those guys and I just want to thank them for the opportunity. It’s pretty cool to be up here.”
How has it been racing with an injured wrist? “It hasn’t bothered me at all. It’s been pretty pain-free and easy to drive with so no problems here with the hand. I’m just happy to be out here still running. Even though I’ve got a wing down I’m still able to go out there and run fast so I’m pretty happy about it.” What happened to your wrist? “Pretty much it was broken for two years and I didn’t know. I found out and got surgery on it, got a cast on it and now I’m here.”
STEVE WALLACE, No. 66 5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry, Rusty Wallace Racing Finishing Position: 11th
KENNY WALLACE, No. 09 American Ethanol Toyota Camry, RAB Racing with Brack Maggard Finishing Position: 13th Are you disappointed with your finish after running in the top-five most of the race? “I’m just completely devastated. To run second to fourth all night long and to finish 13th. I’m just really disappointed, you know. We made a mistake — we pitted too early and had to go to the tail end of the longest line. Made a mistake, so I guess we went from third to 13th. It doesn’t feel good. It’s devastating. I’m demoralized.”
BRIAN SCOTT, No. 11 Shore Lodge Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 15th
MICHAEL ANNETT, No. 62 Oakley Toyota Camry, Rusty Wallace Racing Finishing Position: 16th
KELLY BIRES, No. 18 Heil Heating & Cooling Products Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 30th