Richmond, Va. — Denny Hamlin returned from last week's injury-shortened weekend and led almost from start to finish Friday night to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway.
Hamlin led the first 154 laps after starting on the pole. He relinquished the lead for one lap to Brian Scott during a series of green-flag pit stops, and to Elliott Sadler during another green-flag stop late in the race, but both times regained the lead on the following lap. The Virginia driver routinely built leads of several seconds on the 0.75-mile oval and won by 3.719 seconds.
"It's been a great day obviously right from the very start," Hamlin said. "Our car had some great speed and that's the key to victory. It's not tricks or anything like that. It's just you've got to have a fast car.
"They gave me something special tonight and we were able to dominate with it. You don't get these cars often."
The victory was Hamlin's 12th in the series and third at Richmond. Following up on Kyle Busch's wire-to-wire victory for Joe Gibbs Racing in the series last September, the JGR teams have led 498 of the last 500 laps run in the series at RIR.
It also was Toyota's 100th victory in 281 races since the manufacturer joined the series in 2007.
The victory capped a remarkable return for Hamlin, who started the race last weekend at Bristol, then turned the car over to NASCAR novice Erik Jones during a rain delay because he was experiencing neck and back pain.
But he pronounced himself "100 percent" Friday at the track just 15 miles from where he grew up, and announced his return by winning the pole for the Xfinity race and then qualifying second for Saturday night's Sprint Cup race.
The superiority of his car, Hamlin said, was evident throughout, even when he struggled on restarts.
"I knew if I could get through the first five laps of a restart, I would be able to set the pace," he said.
The race also was the second dominant performance in the series in a row, Joey Logano having led wire-to-wire to win the 300-lap race last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
"I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the butt-whooping now," Logano joked afterward. He started second and ran in the top five all night, but said, "We were just a second-place car. Straight up, that's where we were. I couldn't catch him."
Regan Smith was third, followed by Jones and Chase Elliott.
Three crew members hurt
NASCAR says three pit road crew members were taken to a hospital after a fire broke out on pit road during the race.
Two of the crew members were working in Brendan Gaughan's pit, where the fire erupted, and one was in Eric McClure's pit.
There was no additional information about the extent of their injuries, or what sparked the fire.
Television replays showed a huge ball of flame that appeared to engulf at least one crew member in Gaughan's pit.
NASCAR identified the three injured as Gaughan's rear tire changer, Anthony O'Brien, and fueler, Josh Wittman, and Clifford Turner, a crew member from McClure's team. McClure's team said later that Turner had been treated and released.
There was no word on the condition of O'Brien or Wittman.
Logano wins pole
Joey Logano won the pole position Friday night for the Toyota Owners 400 Sprint Cup race Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Logano, this year's Daytona 500 winner, turned a fast lap at 127.071 mph in the third round on the 0.75-mile oval. He easily edged Denny Hamlin for the top spot, with Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger starting in the second row.
Hamlin's best lap in the final round came at 126.796 mph.
The pole is the series-high third of the season for Logano in nine races. He will begin the 400-lap race 30 points behind Kevin Harvick for the series lead.
The top spot also is "the most surprising pole" Logano's ever won, he said, because he needed to run an extra lap in each of the first two rounds of qualifying to move on and was still at the back of the 12-car field when the final round began.
"When you are sitting 10th or 11th going into the last session you can swing for the fence because you can only lose one spot," he said. "We made a big adjustment to try to find some speed and the guys did a great job with that last adjustment and get it turning and off she went."
Records fall in qualifying
Jack Beckman raced to the first three-second Funny Car run at Royal Purple Raceway to take the qualifying lead in the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas.
Beckman had a track-record time of 3.988 seconds at 318.17 mph in a Dodge Charger. He has 10 No. 1 qualifiers in his career, but hasn't had one since August 2013 — a span of 54 races.
Spencer Massey led in Top Fuel, and Shane Gray had the Pro Stock lead.
Massey set both ends of the Top Fuel track record with a 3.734 at 330.07 in his Don Schumacher Racing dragster. Gray had a 6.536 at 211.43 in a Chevy Camaro.