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Hamlin leads Chase after victory

Denny Hamlin celebrates Richmond winDenny Hamlin claimed his sixth win of the season on Saturday night at Richmond, which gave him the leading spot in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup series that kicks off next week.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was dominant, leading 251 of the race's 400 laps, but his team-mate Kyle Busch mounted a late challenge for victory that kept Hamlin honest in the closing stages of the event.

However while trying to keep up the pressure on Hamlin, Busch ran out of rear tyres and was unable to stay in contention for victory for the last 10 laps, letting his team-mate grab the win that probably slipped through his fingers last weekend at Atlanta due to an engine failure.

Hamlin, who has been in the Chase since his first full season in NASCAR in 2006, will lead the standings for the first time in his career, and more importantly while heading into the championship play-off that starts next week at Loudon.

"I definitely feel like we spent the last two weeks trying to gauge where we are going to be and we brought what we had in the shop and said we are going to try to start our Chase early," said Hamlin. "That way, when we got to Loudon, we would be in the swing of our momentum, not trying to falsely start it and I feel like we have done that.

"We could have had two wins in a row going into the Chase, but last week is in the past and right now I just feel really confident in the team."

Busch did not lead a single lap all night but still came close to sweeping this year's races at Richmond, having won at the 0.75-mile oval in May. He will start the championship battle from fourth place and only 30 points off Hamlin, thanks to his three victories thus far.

"We can't be disappointed in a second tonight," said Busch. "We wanted to win, and we fought hard with Denny, but [we were] racing team-mates clean like that, and not laying a bumper at all, just making sure that the Gibbs cars had a good, solid night, so that we have everything on our side heading into the Chase here next weekend."

Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, who will be second when the Chase starts, was the only Hendrick Motorsports driver who ran strongly, leading the race for seven laps but finishing a distant third in the end.

The third JGR car of Joey Logano followed Johnson past the chequered flag, running as fast as his team-mates up front in the final portion of the race, while charging his way up to a top-five finish.

Behind him Australian Marcos Ambrose impressed with his best oval result of the year in fifth, beating Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer, who secured the final spot in this year's Chase without much drama, even looking a contender for victory after leading 33 laps, all of them in the first half of the race.

"To get all three cars in the Chase after none of us being in the Chase last year feels good," said Bowyer. "Very excited for RCR's chances and I feel like this is the best shot we've ever had since I've been there to win a championship."

Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya also led for three laps after his final pitstop, but then faded to seventh by the end ahead of Richard Petty's AJ Allmendinger, former points leader Kevin Harvick and Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards, who led 95 laps but struggled for balance when it mattered most.

Greg Biffle had a difficult race yet again but still secured his place in the Chase, while Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, who had a mathematical chance of being in the play-off before the race, were never in position to do so throughout the night.

Two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom had a very respectable oval debut in the Sprint Cup, taking his Red Bull Toyota to a 31st place, finishing four laps down but on the same one as regular race-winner Kasey Kahne, and ahead of Chase contender Greg Biffle and Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Pos  Driver              Car        Laps
 1.  Denny Hamlin        Toyota     400
 2.  Kyle Busch          Toyota     400
 3.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet  400
 4.  Joey Logano         Toyota     400
 5.  Marcos Ambrose      Toyota     400
 6.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet  400
 7.  Juan Pablo Montoya  Chevrolet  400
 8.  AJ Allmendinger     Ford       400
 9.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet  400
10.  Carl Edwards        Ford       400
11.  Ryan Newman         Chevrolet  400
12.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet  400
13.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet  400
14.  Matt Kenseth        Ford       400
15.  Brad Keselowski     Dodge      400
16.  Tony Stewart        Chevrolet  400
17.  Jamie McMurray      Chevrolet  400
18.  Kurt Busch          Dodge      400
19.  David Reutimann     Toyota     398
20.  Mark Martin         Chevrolet  398
21.  Casey Mears         Toyota     398
22.  Martin Truex Jr     Toyota     398
23.  David Ragan         Ford       398
24.  Scott Speed         Toyota     398
25.  Regan Smith         Chevrolet  398
26.  Paul Menard         Ford       397
27.  Elliott Sadler      Ford       397
28.  Sam Hornish Jr      Dodge      397
29.  Kasey Kahne         Ford       396
30.  Dave Blaney         Chevrolet  396
31.  Mattias Ekstrom     Toyota     396
32.  Greg Biffle         Ford       395
33.  Landon Cassill      Chevrolet  395
34.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet  394
35.  Travis Kvapil       Ford       393
36.  Jeff Green          Ford       393
37.  David Gilliland     Ford       393
38.  Tony Raines         Ford       392
39.  Bobby Labonte       Chevrolet  324
40.  Terry Labonte       Toyota     143
41.  Kevin Conway        Toyota     118
42.  Joe Nemechek        Toyota     61
43.  Jason Leffler       Toyota     30
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Edwards beats Montoya to pole