We report on the use of grazing-incidence time-resolved x-ray diffraction to investigate the evolution of strain in natural graphite excited by femtosecond-laser pulses in the fluence range of 6-35 mJ/cm(2). Strains corresponding to up to similar to 2.8% c-axis expansion were observed. We show that the experimental data is in good agreement with calculations based on the Thomsen strain model in conjunction with dynamical diffraction theory. Furthermore we find no evidence of nonthermal lattice expansion as reported in recent ultrafast electron-diffraction studies of laser-excited graphite conducted under comparable excitation conditions.