A wacky first quarter of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season continued as Hendrick Motorsports locked in their third driver to the playoffs as Alex Bowman stole a win on a late restart after having a fast car all day long.
The win gives Bowman his third victory in the Cup Series and makes eight different winners in the first nine races of the season.
The Cup Series held their first day race at Richmond since 2017 Sunday afternoon with the hope that it would produce better racing.
Stage one went without a hitch as Denny Hamlin led 54 laps after the competition caution to win his fourth stage of the 2021 season. Two-time race winner this year, Martin Truex Jr., led the opening 30 laps prior to the artificial yellow.
After earning his best starting spot since the pole at the Daytona road course, Chase Elliott quickly faded due to a tight race car and finished stage one outside the top 10. Meanwhile, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in Alex Bowman worked his way to a seventh-place finish in the stage after starting 24th.
During a green-flag pit cycle in stage two, Ryan Newman was turned by Austin Cindric to bring out the first caution for an incident at Richmond since 2019. This helped out drivers such as Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez and Corey LaJoie as they stayed out prior to the caution and were only in a group of 12 cars on the lead lap at the time of the yellow.
The second cycle of pit stops went by caution-free in the 155-lap second stage. Everyone came down pit road outside of Team Penske’s Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. They stayed out for the remainder of the stage, but faded quickly. Blaney fell a lap down by the end of the stage and Keselowski finished 16th. Neither were in a position to regain a lap.
Hamlin went on to win stage two, winning three of the last four stages at Richmond. Matt DiBenedetto and Aric Almirola picked up vital points in the stage.
The final 140 laps of the race were a battle between the class of the field in Truex Jr., Hamlin and Joey Logano. However, on one of the final stops of the race, Truex suffered a speeding penalty, which ended his chances of picking up this third victory of the season.
The final stage remained caution-free for a long time, leading to a battle for the lead between bitter rivals in Hamlin and Logano as they tried working through lapped traffic.
Hamlin got to Logano’s bumper multiple times and even tried moving him, but Logano ran the outside to get the momentum out of the corners and hold the lead.
However, with 20 laps to go, Kevin Harvick cut a right-rear tire to bring out a caution and force everyone to pit. On the money stop, it was Hamlin’s crew getting him ahead of Logano to win the race off pit road.
The trends of the race showed on the final restart as Hamlin’s car couldn’t fire off. This held up Logano and Bowman, who had a fast car all race long, took advantage and ran away from both Hamlin and Logano to score his first win of the season.
It may not be a victory once again, but Hamlin is on a roll in 2021 with eight top-five finishes through the first nine races.
Christopher Bell finished fourth to score his second top five of the year. After the speeding penalty, Truex rebounded to round out the top five.
Finally, Almirola comes through in 2021 to score his first top-10 finish. DiBenedetto also scored his first top 10 of the year.
William Byron, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon also earned top 10’s.
A tough day for the defending champion as Elliott finished 12th. He’s now the only Hendrick driver to not lock his spot into the postseason.
With half the playoff field already set, business is going to pick up next Sunday as the Cup Series hits Talladega Superspeedway for the first time in 2021.
Unofficial race results:
Unofficial playoff standings: