Denny Hamlin Intends to Break Streak of New Winners at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - APRIL 11: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Veteran Denny Hamlin became the seventh driver to win in seven races to start the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season after his win at Richmond. Of those seven, Hamlin was the only winner older then 30, and he’s hoping to break another streak heading to Martinsville by scoring a repeat victory in this weekend’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Martinsville, the oldest track on the Cup schedule rewards experience. Hamlin comes heads to Martinsville with the best record of all active drivers. His five past wins leads Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr, who’s found victory lane three times, including last year’s spring race. Hamlin is also second among the drivers in wins on all short tracks. The title of active short track leader goes to fellow teammate Kyle Busch.

“I think we’ll see typical Martinsville,” said Chase Briscoe who has two Cup starts there. “Hard racing and a few guys mad at each other by the end of the race. It’s always a fun race, but a lot more fun if you’re up near the front and out of the trouble happening further back in the field.”

He added, “I think we’ll still see some issues where brakes are concerned.”

“Short-track racing is where we all came from,” said Aric Almirola, looking for his first win this season for his Stewart Haas team. “It’s where our sport began. You get to put the racing back in the driver’s hands and there’s a lot of beating and banging involved. It’s close-quarter racing at its finest and even better when we get to race under the lights on a Saturday night.”

For the first time in 50 years, the race will be shortened to 400 laps from the original 500, the first time in the modern era. Despite that, “there will still be some long hauls,” said Busch. It’ll also be the first full night race at the track, starting late on Saturday.

Although it’s early in the season, the Playoffs are already in the picture. Christopher Bell, driver of the 20 Toyota, sits 21st in points, behind his Gibbs teammates without a win. He said “it has definitely crossed my mind. We know that we are definitely in a really big hole in points. We need to perform in every stage to capitalize on getting as many points back as we can. Making the Playoffs is a big deal, and we are certainly focused on that.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Returns to Headline Xfinity

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be driving his JR Motorsports 88 in the Xfinity Series Call 811 Before You Dig 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It’s his latest return to racing since Richmond last September, where he finished 14th.

Earnhardt says he feels “pretty good” heading into the race. He hasn’t returned to the track since his retirement year in 2017, and all his practice has been on the simulator.

Series regular AJ Allmendinger leads Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson, tied for second in the points, by 20 points. Gibbs carries the momentum from a win at Richmond last week. He’s looking to “keep the momentum rolling.”

Also on the minds of Gibbs, Allmendinger, Sam Mayer, and Riley Herbst will be an extra $100,000. By finishing in the top four of last week’s race at Richmond, those drivers are eligible to the Dash 4 Cash bonus on Friday night, which will continue next week at Bristol.

Truck Series Gets Aggressive

Defending Martinsville winner Zane Smith, despite having won half of the four races so far this season, sits fourth in points heading to Martinsville. He said, watching a replay of last year’s race, which he won: “It was ugly how aggressive it got and that was my first time ever at Martinsville, so I was little gun-shy, but I was in a must-win situation last year and we pulled it off.”

“I don’t know how it will be this year,” he added. “I just feel like that place has been good to me and it fits me, and I always look forward to Martinsville week.”

Zane Smith is 31 points behind championship leader Chandler Smith, no relation, who scored his first win this year. The championship fight, which is getting hotter by the week, will only make that racing rougher.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Saturday, April 9
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $6,917,073
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 210.4 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 180), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Call 811 Before You Dig 250 Powered by
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Friday, April 8
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,501,956
TV: FS1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 131.5 miles (250 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Thursday, April 7
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Purse: $693,842
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 105.2 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 50),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 100), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

Owen Johnson