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Joe Gibbs has a good situation after Denny Hamlin's pit crew snatches victory from Martin Truex

RICHMOND, Va. — Joe Gibbs probably expects the organizational meeting of his four NASCAR Cup Series teams to be somewhat challenging this week, even after a weekend sweep at Richmond Raceway.

RICHMOND, Va. — Joe Gibbs likely anticipates the team meeting of his four NASCAR Cup Series teams to be fairly challenging this week, even after a weekend sweep at Richmond Raceway.

After Chandler Smith led a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series race Saturday, the owner had a humbled, very fortunate and grateful winner Sunday night, and a disappointed, well-respected and normally very affable driver who dominated the race but fell victim to late circumstances that left him, at least temporarily, bitter.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin moved from third to first on pit road when a late caution sent everyone to their pits for an overtime two-lap sprint. Teammate Martin Truex Jr. went from almost certain victory to a fourth-place finish after challenger Kyle Larson spun to bring out a caution with two laps to go, sending all the contenders to pit road, where Hamlin’s team won.

On the restart on Lap 406, Hamlin took off once he crossed into the restart area, which is the leader’s prerogative, beat Truex into the first turn, held him off and won, leaving Truex angry after dominating the second half of the race and Hamlin gushing about his once-troublesome pit crew.

“I went right at it, for sure,” Hamlin said of the restart. “I did that because I saw those guys rolling to me. The 22 was laying back. The 19 was rolling a couple miles an hour quicker than I was. I wasn’t going to let them have an advantage that my team earned on pit road.”

Truex was uncharacteristically upset, side-swiping Larson on the cool-down lap, then bumping his teammate three times to express his displeasure.

“We got beat out of the pits and then — I don’t know. He jumped the start and then used me up into Turn 1,” Truex said, though NASCAR said the restart was within acceptable guidelines.

Gibbs was asked to assess the outcome.

“These things are so hard to win. So when you have an experience the way Martin did tonight, to race that hard. At one point when (Larson) was in front of us on the pit stop, he came right back and got it. He drove his heart out. Then to have a caution, we go that far, with three laps to go, it was devastating. We came out of there, came out second on the pit stop.

“Honestly, that’s what I was trying to relate to everybody. You’re happy for Denny, certainly, and everything that happened tonight for him, but then you see Martin, how hard he fought for this, how much he wanted it. That’s part of our sport. It’s really hard.”

The victory was Hamlin’s second through seven races, tying the Gibbs Toyota garage with the Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports with three victories this season. But even Larson seemed sympathetic to Truex, who he’d chased all night, unable to catch and pass him.

“Martin is probably the most respected guy in the garage area, so I was surprised when he turned left on me down the backstretch after the checkered,” Larson said. “It’s all good. I hope he doesn’t have any hard feelings to me because I definitely don’t towards him.

“As I mentioned, I have a lot of admiration for him.”

Hamlin, on the other hand, commended his pit crew for the final stop. In recent years, he has been more likely to fault the over-the-wall crew for causing him to lose races. This time, he gave them praise.

Interestingly, his team used to belong to Truex.

“I feel like I just experienced a two-year period in 2020 maybe, 2021, where every time I came down pit road I was very afraid. ‘Please, only lose one spot.’ It was bad for a really long time,” he said. “It’s just finally turned the page and we’re going the other way now.

“These guys have been together I think for three consecutive years now. They were on Martin’s team a few years ago, but they were young and making a lot of mistakes that first year.”

Now? They are winning him races when the opportunity presents itself.

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