Hamlin wins, Busch falls short of Chase

September 12, 2009

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Denny Hamlin finally grabbed a coveted win at his home track in a bittersweet night for Joe Gibbs Racing. As he celebrated in Victory Lane, teammate Kyle Busch was shut out of the Chase for the championship.

It was a compelling night of Saturday night racing at Richmond International Raceway, where 11 drivers vied for the final eight available spots in NASCAR's title-deciding Chase.

On the bubble was Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who started the race in the 12th and final qualifying spot, with hard-charging Brian Vickers and Busch, owner of four wins this season, right on his bumper.

Kenseth struggled from the drop of the green flag and quickly fell out of contention. But Busch and Vickers swapped the final spot multiple times over the 400 laps, setting up a final 14-lap sprint to the finish.


Busch used a flawless final pit stop to beat Vickers off of pit road, but he restarted the race sixth and could only gain one spot on the track. He finished fifth.

Vickers, meanwhile, finished a career-high seventh at Richmond to grab the final Chase spot by eight points -- the tightest margin since the format began in 2004.

"We'll live to see another day, we'll go on and race the rest of the year," Busch said. "It's not just one night. It's a slew of bad races."

Busch and Vickers, one-time teammates who feuded last month, showed no ill-will toward each other after the frantic finish. Busch extended a handshake and said, "Good job," as Vickers entered the post-race news conference.

Vickers, on an 11-race frantic push with upstart Red Bull Racing, promised a long night of celebrating his first Chase berth.

"We picked a good night to figure this place out," Vickers said.

Kenseth, winner of the first two races this season, was shut out of the Chase for the first time since it started in 2004.

"Third race of the year, Las Vegas, we finished last and it's been downhill from there," Kenseth said. "The way we're running right now, even if we made it, we wouldn't have a shot at the championship."

Aside from Hamlin and Vickers, the rest of the Chase field is: Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Greg Biffle.

But Hamlin, winner of two races this season, thinks he's the favorite to dethrone Johnson's run of three-straight championships.

"They better watch us," he vowed. "I am telling you, this team is dangerous."

The Herald-Mail Articles