Ya know, Denny Hamlin sure is acquiring a flair for the dramatic. You can almost be sure if there’s something going on in his life off the track, something big will happen on it. My mind flashed back to last season, when Hamlin won at Pocono after the death of his grandmother. On a day where he was supposed to be under the knife to repair an ACL, Denny Hamlin wins at Martinsville, his hometown track.
Adding to the drama, it looked like Hamlin wouldn’t have a shot at winning after crew chief Mike Ford called for a pit stop under caution 10 laps to go. Hamlin comes in with Kyle Busch, making the two look a bit like something out of that old NAPA commercial where Michael Waltrip shows up at the wrong track. Not only could you hear a “What are you thinking?” from the broadcast booth, you could just imagine Hamlin fans everywhere hucking objects at their televisions.
Hamlin barrels through the field on the re-start, making his way to fourth, when Busch brings out another caution. Jeff Gordon has the lead, Ryan Newman is on the outside of him and Matt Kenseth is third, alongside Hamlin. If you know Hamlin’s style, then it’s no surprise he gets Newman out of the way. Contact between Gordon and Kenseth opens the door for Hamlin to take the lead and the checkered flag.
For his part, Gordon says, “I didn’t get a great start, but a pretty decent start. I saw the ‘17’ was way behind me. And I drove into One, y’know, trying to not overcook it. He drove into the back of me so hard, that I don’t know what happened, whether the ‘11’ got into the back of him, or he just drove it in the back of me, but I made sure he wasn’t gonna win the race after that.”
Kenseth says, “I guess it looked like it was my fault. I did go in there and I did get into Jeff a little bit, really not that hard, and I got under him and everything was fine and he just took a left as hard as he could take one and ran me down all the way into the marbles. I’ve got all the marbles on my rear tires and I slowed up to try to get in the corner real slow and I kind of got hit from behind and I got hit in the side and started wheel-hopping. I couldn’t hang onto it when I got to three. It’s nothing Jeff wouldn’t have done or hasn’t done to me, expect he’s wrecked me all the way out, so it was just an aggressive race for the end. We were gonna be side-by-side going into three and four, and the outside lane has actually been an advantage anyway, so it wasn’t gonna be that big of a deal, but, instead, he decided to run me down as low as he could because he knew I’d wreck when I got to the corner. That’s the way it turned out. It was a dumb move on my part. I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I’d go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake.”
As it was, Gordon ended up third on the day, Kenseth 18th. These two have a bit of a history, and for my part, I just chalk it up to the madness of short track racing.
How about that Joey Logano? His improving survival skills get him a second place finish, taking some of the edge of what has been a tough start for Joe Gibbs Racing. Newman held on for fourth.
In a surprisingly good day for Toyotas, Martin Truex took home a top five, with Brian Vickers right behind the “56” in 6th. Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, that Jimmie Johnson guy (who now leads the standings) and Greg Biffle round out the top ten.
It was a rough day for a couple of drivers running up front. Bad brakes did in former points leader Kevin Harvick- who led 57 laps. He ended up 35th. Kurt Busch fell back after leading 19 laps, and limps home with a 23rd. After running top ten most of the day, Mark Martin’s 21st place finish has to be a disappointment. His HMS teammate- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.- finished 15th, after running in the top ten much of the day.
Regardless of all the mayhem, the day shaped up as a battle between two Virginians: Hamlin and Jeff Burton. J.B. may have been the guy to beat before a flat tire did him in, causing him to settle for 20th.
As for Hamlin, he put it this way, “I think 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 or that dash at the end. We just flat-out drove through them at the end and got the win. I’m not sure we’ve got a win like this before.”
A win like this will do a lot to take the edge off of that knee surgery for Hamlin. A break for Easter will buy him some time to recoup before the Sprint Cup series heads to Phoenix.