MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Who provides Denny Hamlin his most formidable competition at Martinsville?
No, it’s not Jimmie Johnson, who has won eight times at the fabled short track. And it’s not Joey Logano, who has won the last three poles at Martinsville.
Denny Hamlin’s stiffest competition at the .526-mile speedway is Denny Hamlin, because, all too often, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has beaten himself.
“I don’t know how many pit road penalties I’ve had here at this race track, or why I choose to push it on pit road knowing that I have the speed on the race track that we’ve shown,” Hamlin said before qualifying on Friday.
“I think I’ve had two in the last bunch of races, just consecutively. That’s been a challenge, and last year in the fall race I beat up my car pretty good trying to come back through the pack the second time or maybe it was the first time I had a penalty.”
Hamlin will try to be more cautious on pit road in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, because he feels he can’t afford another penalty.
“You can’t if you’re going to win, especially the bonehead things that I’ve done,” said Hamlin, a five-time winner in 20 Martinsville starts. “I’ve had my penalties in the race where what does it really matter on lap 80 if you gain a spot on pit road, since you have so many more laps.
“Luckily, most of my penalties have been early in the race, but still it takes its toll on the car to have to come through the pack multiple times.”
Kyle Larson opted to run the Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville because hadn’t enjoyed much success at the track. The strategy must have worked. After qualifying fifth for the truck race on Saturday morning, Larson topped the speed chart in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, posting a lap at 95.468 mph. … Jimmie Johnson finally found some speed. His No. 48 Chevrolet was 24th fastest in both the first and second rounds of Friday’s knockout qualifying. In Saturday’s morning practice, he was 13th. And in Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon, Johnson finally cracked the top 10, posting the sixth fastest speed during the session at 95.252 mph. Johnson also posted the fastest average speed for a 10-lap run in final practice, running an impressive 94.866 mph from Lap 3 through Lap 12 of the session.
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