MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Even if you don’t remember that Kyle Busch won last October’s Playoff race at Martinsville Speedway, you probably recall that Denny Hamlin forcibly evicted Chase Elliott from the lead when Elliott was poised to claim his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and advance to the championship race at Homestead.
With Elliott the most likely candidate to take over Most Popular Driver honors from retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr., the reaction of fans to Hamlin’s bump was swift and merciless. And two weeks later at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Elliott returned the favor by roughing up Hamlin and ruining his chances to make the final race.
“Those type of incidents have happened for a long time in the course of NASCAR history by a lot of different people, and I think it really had a lot to do with the people in play,” Hamlin said on Saturday at Martinsville. “Maybe if the shoe was on the other foot, there would have been cheers.
“It’s part of short-track racing, and it obviously gets used a lot for promos. Thank goodness this isn’t Texas Motor Speedway, or we’d have a boxing ring or something sitting outside. It’s part of short-track racing and it has been for many, many years. It was just bad to be a part of it on that particular night.”
But Hamlin acknowledges it’s pointless to dwell on something that happened nearly five months ago.
“It was a mistake on my part, and I moved on from it – we both have,” Hamlin said. “We’ve raced each other quite a bit during the course of this year and been fine.
“The only bad memories are, really, it just kind of unraveled our chance to make the final four, to be honest with you. That part of it is frustrating, but it was so long ago that my focus had already shifted to this season, and I can’t go back, so I’ve got to go forward now.”
On his 24th lap of final practice, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel-hopped into Turn 3 and slammed his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford into the outside wall. The extensive damage that resulted required a backup car, and Stenhouse will start from the rear in Sunday’s STP 500 at the .526-mile short track. “We had planned on doing like 40 laps and a long run and then come in, making a change and doing another one, but going in Turn 3, I got on the brakes and got wheel-hop, which we haven’t had in two or three races here. When I first started coming to Martinsville in my career, I had a lot of wheel-hop and I actually did that a lot here, so it kind of caught me off-guard that we had it.”
Martin Truex Jr., last Sunday’s winner at Auto Club Speedway, paced both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practices on Saturday, running 95.752 mph in the morning session and 95.415 mph in Happy Hour. The defending series champion also had won consecutive pole positions at Phoenix and Auto Club. Truex also had the best consecutive 10-lap average speed in the first session and was third in that category behind Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in final practice.