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Hamlin holds off Gordon in Martinsville

by Pete McCole
Sunday, March 30, 2008

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Denny Hamlin

Virginia native Denny Hamlin finally broke into the win column in his home state, passing fellow Virginia native Jeff Burton with 74 laps to go to and holding off Jeff Gordon to win Sunday’s Goody’s Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

After recording two top-three finishes in five starts at the half-mile oval, Hamlin overcame the bad luck that has plagued him all season to break Hendrick Motorsports long string of victories at Martinsville, but to do it, Hamlin had to hold off Hendrick’s Martinsville ace Jeff Gordon – a seven-time Martinsville winner – as Gordon hunted him down over the final laps. 

With the lapped car of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch between them, Hamlin held off Gordon through the last seven laps for his first Sprint Cup victory of the year and the fourth of his career.

Burton, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart followed Hamlin and Gordon to the finish.

“First Virginia win for me,” said Hamlin. “Finally. The curse is over, I think. I hope. We've had such bad luck over these first few weeks.

“It finally feels good to come here and get a win. This is a sign of things to come, I believe.”

After posting a victory in the Gatorade Duel race prior to the season-opening Daytona 500, Hamlin has had a miserable run of luck, starting with a 41st-place showing at California and a fuel-pickup problem which denied him a win two weeks ago at Bristol.

Now, it seems that coming home has been the lucky charm he needed.

“It's just been so close so many times to finally breakthrough here definitely means a lot,” said Hamlin. “Kind of feels like maybe the monkey is off of our back.”

At a track that has been dominated by Hendrick Motorsports, winning eight of the last 10 races at Martinsville, Sunday’s race was no exception, as Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. combine to lead 371 of the 500 laps.

In the end though, it was savvy pit strategy that gave Hamlin’s team the victory.

Following the 17th yellow flag on lap 386. Gordon gave up the lead to make his final pit stop along with most of the leaders – all except Burton, who elected to stay out to pick up track position and ultimately the lead.

Hamlin tried a different ploy – taking on only fuel to beat Gordon off pit road and restart the race fifth behind Burton, Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards and Casey Mears with 107 laps to go.

Hamlin carefully picked his way through the top five, moving up behind Burton with 74 laps to before ducking inside to take the lead.

Gordon, who restarted in the fifth position after the final caution on lap 403, also began making his way toward the front, passing Burton for second with seven laps to go, but couldn’t clear lapped traffic in time to make a run at Hamlin for the victory.

“It came down to pit strategy and Denny (Hamlin) and those guys definitely did the right strategy taking two,” said Gordon, who was unaware that Hamlin only took fuel on his last stop. “I don't know, my car just would never go on that last set, last two sets.  It was a handful, Junior got by me and I was just trying to hold on and all of a sudden it started coming to me a little bit. 

“Luckily there was a real long run there and I was able to get by (Edwards) and (Burton) and make a great effort out of it.”

Burton, though, was angered by the erratic driving of rookie Michael McDowell, making his Sprint Cup debut driving for Michael Waltrip.

McDowell, running three laps down in the closing laps, seemed to hold up Burton as he tried to climb back up to challenge Hamlin.

“I'm proud of the effort, good pit stops,” said Burton. “ I thought we had something, we started coming back on Hamlin and then that kid in the 00 (McDowell), he's going to learn some manners or I'm going to teach them to him or he can choose it however he wants it but it will be one way or the other.”

Despite finishing third, Burton managed to leave Martinsville as the series points leader after Kyle Busch  - who scored Toyota’s first ever Sprint Cup victory two weeks ago at Bristol - ran into transmission problems, knocking him to a 38th-place finish.

Jamie McMurray enjoyed one of his best runs of the season. After dropping out of the top 35 in points, McMurray was forced to qualify on speed and did just that, earning him a fifth-place starting spot that McMurray parlayed until an eighth-place finish and moving him back into the top 35 in points.

McMurray’s good fortune came at the expense of David Reutimann, who dropped out of the top 35 after failing to finish in his first start in place of Dale Jarrett in the no. 44 UPS Toyota.

Sam Hornish, Jr. also dropped out of the top 35, joining Dario Franchitti, Kyle Petty and Dave Blaney among those who will have to race their way into next weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Results

FIN

ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 2 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Freight 190/5 500 Running
2 1 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont 175/5 500 Running
3 24 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet AT&T Mobility 170/5 500 Running
4 10 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 165/5 500 Running
5 9 20 Tony Stewart Toyota The Home Depot 155/0 500 Running
6 22 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet AMP Energy / National Guard 160/10 500 Running
7 39 5 Casey Mears Chevrolet Kellogg's / CARQUEST 146/0 500 Running
8 5 26 Jamie McMurray Ford IRWIN Industrial Tools 142/0 500 Running
9 27 99 Carl Edwards Ford Claritin 138/0 500 Running
10 12 07 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet BB&T 134/0 500 Running
11 4 6 David Ragan Ford AAA Insurance 130/0 500 Running
12 11 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 127/0 500 Running
13 29 42 Juan Montoya Dodge Wrigley's Big Red 124/0 500 Running
14 33 01 Regan Smith * Chevrolet DEI / Principal Financial Group 121/0 500 Running
15 25 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge McDonald's 118/0 500 Running
16 35 15 Paul Menard Chevrolet Pittsburgh Paints / Menards 115/0 500 Running
17 6 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 112/0 500 Running
18 14 28 Travis Kvapil Ford Yates Racing 109/0 499 Running
19 13 12 Ryan Newman Dodge ALLTEL 106/0 499 Running
20 19 16 Greg Biffle Ford Jackson Hewitt 103/0 499 Running
21 42 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 100/0 499 Running
22 43 40 Dario Franchitti * Dodge Kennametal 97/0 499 Running
23 40 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 94/0 497 Running
24 21 38 David Gilliland Ford FreeCreditReport.com 91/0 497 Running
25 32 43 Bobby Labonte Dodge Cheerios / Betty Crocker 93/5 497 Running
26 34 00 Michael McDowell Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 85/0 497 Running
27 23 96 J.J. Yeley Toyota DLP HDTV 82/0 497 Running
28 26 77 Sam Hornish Jr. * Dodge Mobil 1 79/0 497 Running
29 37 10 Patrick Carpentier * Dodge Charter Comm. 76/0 497 Running
30 28 17 Matt Kenseth Ford DEWALT 73/0 496 Running
31 30 84 Mike Skinner Toyota Red Bull 70/0 496 Running
32 31 70 Jeremy Mayfield Chevrolet Haas Automation 72/5 495 Running
33 20 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 64/0 493 Running
34 17 21 Bill Elliott Ford Little Debbie Nutty Bars 61/0 492 Running
35 16 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA AUTO PARTS 58/0 483 Running
36 38 41 Reed Sorenson Dodge Target 55/0 471 Running
37 7 49 Ken Schrader Toyota Microsoft Small Business 52/0 467 Running
38 8 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 49/0 443 Running
39 15 44 David Reutimann Toyota UPS 51/5 441 Out of Race
40 41 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Charter Comm. 43/0 440 Running
41 36 66 Scott Riggs Chevrolet State Water Heaters 40/0 420 Running
42 3 8 Aric Almirola Chevrolet U.S. Army 37/0 379 Out of Race
43 18 22 Dave Blaney Toyota Caterpillar 39/5 374 Out of Race

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