Hamlin Battles for Top-10 Martinsville FinishOctober 27, 2014
After leading 68 laps Denny Hamlin finished eighth in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway in the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota. The race was won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Jeff Gordon second and Ryan Newman third.
Hamlin lined up sixth for the final restart with five laps to go, but fell back as far as 11th in the scramble down the backstretch, before battling back and reclaiming two spots during the final two laps to log the eighth place finish.
"It just wish we could have finished where we ran all day," said Hamlin. "I'm just looking at the guys that finished in front of us and I had them beat all day. I thought we had a race-winning car there in the middle part of the race, but as soon as the track got shaded we lost the handle a little bit."
Denny started fifth and ran in the top-five through most of the 500 laps around the half-mile short track affectionately known as The Big Paper Clip, at times the fastest car on the track.
Throughout the first half of the race, crew chief Darian Grubb made precise chassis adjustments during each stop to try and cure a tight condition in the center of the corner that was affecting Hamlin’s drive off the corner. The adjustments helped the #11 machine move steadily forward with Hamlin eventually taking the lead on lap 290, however, Denny’s lead would be interrupted by a caution just four laps later.
Caution periods and varying pit strategies would drop Hamlin back as far as 17th, but a well timed four-tire stop gave Denny the advantage he needed to race his way through the field and take the lead again with 142 laps to go. Hamlin held the top spot for the next 64 laps before changing track conditions started affecting the handle on the FedEx car.
"It's hard because you've got guys that go laps down in the course of the race and get enough lucky dogs and then have only 50 laps on their tires and they want to stay out," said Hamlin. "That's part of the deal, you've got to do it for all 500 laps and we just didn't have a very good car once the track went shaded."
Hamlin is now fifth in points in the Eliminator round, two points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth with two races to go before the top four drivers advance to the Championship race at Homestead.
"We can still do it," added Hamlin. "Now we know at least two guys are going to make it on points, but we still have to be solid and still have to do everything we can to show we can be part of the final four. Today was a good race for that, just didn't finish as well as we needed."
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action on Sunday, Nov. 2nd at Texas Motor Speedway.