RICHMOND, Va. — It was yet another Denny Hamlin runaway for Joe Gibbs Racing on Saturday night in what turned out to be an anticlimactic end to NASCAR’s regular season.
The fireworks came off the track at Richmond International Raceway, where Tony Stewart intentionally wrecked Ryan Newman before Newman angrily chided his former boss for the accident that officially ended Newman’s chances to make the playoffs.
The verbal beat down from Newman came with 37 laps left, before Hamlin finished off his third career Sprint Cup win at his home track while giving JGR its third consecutive victory at the track and ninth in the last 15 races.
Newman called Stewart “bipolar,” said the retiring race car driver had anger issues, and all but outright referenced the 2014 incident in which Stewart fatally struck a sprint car driver.
“I guess he thought he was in a sprint car again and didn’t know how to control his anger,” Newman said after the two made contact three times before finally wrecking. Dylan Lupton couldn’t avoid the accident and his car ended up wedged between the wall and on top of Newman’s car when the crashing finally ceased.
Stewart admitted to wrecking Newman.
“He’s right, that was the third time he had driven into me. How many times is he supposed to hit you before you say, ‘I’ve had enough of it?'” Stewart said.
The wreckage caused a stoppage of just over 20 minutes and sent Newman’s temperature soaring. Newman’s team was penalized 15 points this week by NASCAR for failing post-race inspection at Darlington, and the punishment made his task of trying to race his way into the Chase extremely difficult.
But few expected him to be so harsh toward Stewart, who employed Newman for five years until Newman was let go from Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the 2013 season.
“Just disappointing that you have somebody old like that that should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous,” Newman said. “I don’t think there was any reason other than him just being bipolar and having anger issues. Google Tony Stewart, you’ll see all kinds of things he’s done. Look it up on YouTube, everything else. Quite the guy.”
Stewart, who last week intentionally wrecked Brian Scott, is retiring at the end of the season and already had his spot in the Chase secure headed into Richmond. He’d had time to cool down before addressing the incident and Newman’s comments, joking Newman will get “his wish in 10 weeks” for Stewart to retire.
“He’s got to do his part, too, to race for a championship,” Stewart said. “This night didn’t dictate it for him.”
He didn’t get it, and the remaining playoff positions in the 16-driver field went to rookie Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray. Chris Buescher also made the Chase by virtue of his win at a rain-shortened race and by maintaining a spot in the top 30 in points.
The rest of the Chase field is made up of the other 12 race winners this season.
Once again, Gibbs has all four of its cars in the Chase, and a bonus, too, with sister team Furniture Row Racing with driver Martin Truex Jr. And just like last year, when Kyle Busch won his first Cup title and ended a 10-year title drought for Gibbs, the team again is the favorite.
The JGR cars and Truex dominated at Richmond and Hamlin seemed to have the win locked up until an accident — the race record 16th yellow flag — forced Hamlin to win it in overtime. Kasey Kahne, needing a win to make the Chase, pitted for tires in a last-ditch effort for a miracle, but he didn’t have anything for Hamlin in the end.
JGR drivers and Truex led 385 of the 407 laps.
JIMMIE’S LONG NIGHT: Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t appear to be Chase ready in the final tuneup. He had a tire go down, hit the wall, and his crew had an uncontrolled tire on pit road during Johnson’s 11th-place finish. Although he has two wins this year, he’s at career lows in nearly every category, including laps led.
BUSTED BLANEY: It was a short night for Ryan Blaney, who guessed stubbornness was to blame for an accident just 11 laps into the race. Blaney made contact with Trevor Bayne that caused a flat tire and sent Blaney into the wall. He was baffled because he thought he was clear of Bayne, but figured Bayne thought otherwise and neither driver would yield.
“I should know better than that,” Blaney said. “We didn’t even give ourselves a shot at it, that is something I will have regret about.”
UP NEXT: The opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. The field starts with 16 drivers, which will be whittled down over nine rounds to create a final four to race for the title Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.