Hamlin dominates in Martinsville
Denny Hamlin plowed through traffic after a green-white-checkered-flag restart Monday to post his second straight victory at Martinsville Speedway, wresting the title “Mr. Martinsville”—at least temporarily—from Jimmie Johnson, who rode a nondescript ninth-place finish to the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead.
On fresh tires, thanks to a pit stop under caution on Lap 493, Hamlin powered past Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon on Lap 507 of 508 after Kenseth and Gordon traded shots earlier on the same lap.
Hamlin cleared Gordon’s Chevrolet through Turns 3 and 4 and finished the race on a cut tire, .670 seconds ahead of teammate Joey Logano, who weaved his way through the melee to give Joe Gibbs Racing a 1-2 finish at the .526-mile short track.
“Whose house is this?” Hamlin radioed after taking the checkered flag.
“Denny Hamlin’s house,” spotter Curtis Markham answered.
Gordon finished third after leading the field to the Lap 507 restart. Newman ran fourth and Martin Truex Jr. fifth.
The race was delayed by one day because of rain. So was Hamlin’s surgery, originally scheduled for Monday, to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, the result of a pickup basketball injury two months ago.
Though Hamlin is eager to get the operation behind him, he savored Monday’s victory, the ninth of his career.
“This is probably the most gratifying win I’ve had, simply because we came through adversity so many times, whether it be because of pit road (dropping the jack too soon on an early pit stop) or that dash at the end,” said Hamlin, 29. “We just flat out drove through ’em at the end and got the win. I’m not sure we’ve gotten a win like this before.”
A late call for four tires put that win in jeopardy. Hamlin, who led a race-high 172 laps, had a lead of 2.7 seconds when Jeff Burton blew a tire on Lap 491 and caused the 12th caution of the race. Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch, who was running second, came to the pits for tires, handing the lead to Gordon.
Hamlin restarted ninth on Lap 497 and quickly made his way toward the front, knocking off two cars with a harrowing three-wide pass in Turn 1. Hamlin was fourth when Busch spun in Turn 3 after contact with Paul Menard’s Ford on Lap 499 and brought out the final caution, with Gordon tantalizingly close to the start-finish line and his first victory since April 2009 at Texas.
If NASCAR calls a caution after the leader takes the white flag—which signals the final lap—the field is frozen as it runs. Gordon was within 30 yards of the flag when caution flew for Busch’s wreck.
“We were a hundred feet away from getting that white flag, getting the victory,” Gordon said. “So that’s frustrating. But I shouldn’t be too upset. We were a third-place car before that, and we finished third.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened on that last restart. I got an OK restart. Spun the tires a little bit, got going. I looked at my mirror, (and the) 17 (Kenseth) was pretty far behind me. … Next thing I know, I got nailed. I don’t know who got into me. I thought it was the 17. If it wasn’t, I apologize to him. I made sure he didn’t win the race down the straightaway.”
In fact, after Kenseth bumped Gordon’s Chevrolet in the corner, Gordon rubbed Kenseth’s Ford down the backstretch and sent him high into Turn 3. Kenseth finished 18th after most of the lead-lap cars streamed past him. Results
* Denotes Rookie
Q&A with Denny Hamlin
What are your thoughts after the finish to the race?
“I can’t believe it. I thought it was the end for us. That’s for all the people that doubt us. We’re gonna get this thing before the year’s over with. Gotta thank everyone, FedEx. I gotta thank Sprint and all the fans that came back out today. It’s amazing to see this crowd. Coca-Cola, Toyota, Wiley-X. What a great job all day long.”
Were you worried to see Jeff Gordon stay out on the caution with 10 laps to go?
“Wasn’t necessarily worried as much about him as all the other 10 guys that stayed out. That’s hard to do. I had to bully the way through there towards the end, but everyone was just running in to everyone. I flattened my tire with (Matt) Kenseth going down the backstretch. Somehow made it work.”
How much of a gamble was the final pit stop for four tires?
“It wasn’t much of a gamble. Once we committed to pit road, we had no choice – we had to do it. We decided to take four (tires). We restarted ninth and I knew we were going to have to have a caution to help us. We were able to gain some spots and everyone was sliding everywhere with those old tires. We were just able to come through somehow.”
Could you have predicted that you would come from ninth to the win?
“There was no way that I could predict that would happen. Every hole just had to open up just right – every car had to be in the right position. We just somehow made it work. It was going to be a shame that the best car wasn’t going to win today, but instead it did.”
What is the update on your knee surgery?
“We have to delay it until Wednesday now. I was actually going to try to do it after the race, but now we have victory lane celebrations so I can’t do it. It’s a good thing for us. We’re going to wait until Wednesday and trust me, when I come back, I’m going to come back strong.”
How strong was your race car today?
“The first run, we were really able to make some ground up. I knew our car was extremely strong. As soon as the green flag dropped, we were able to make up some positions. Had a pit road thing where the car fell on a jack. I don’t know where that put us back. There were a lot of cars in front of us. It was tough back there to make up ground. I told Mike (Ford, crew chief) I felt like we could get back up to the front the old-fashioned way, driving up there, but it was going to take a little bit longer than what I wanted to. Hopefully we were going to be able to do some sort of pit strategy to get that track position back. We just did it the old-fashioned way. We passed the cars back. It was a good day for us. I told Mike during practice on Saturday there was no doubts we were going to win this race. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard or that dramatic at the end. Nonetheless, it’s a good feeling.”
What does it mean for you to win in your home state?
“There’s more FedEx jackets and hats and shirts in the stands. Believe it or not, we can see that. We see it under caution. You spend a lot of time at this race track under caution. So the race track, the stands are so close to the actual speedway itself, you can look up there and see the guys rooting you on. Somehow it just gives you more motivation, for whatever reason, or determination. It’s definitely more gratifying when you’re able to do that because you know, my fans in particular, they could pick anybody, and probably guys that are more successful, win more races, but they have my stuff on because they believe in me. When we’re able to win, it makes me happy that they’re happy.”
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