Denny Hamlin’s Martinsville race turns into the ‘pits’

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - APRIL 07: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 07, 2024 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday Denny Hamlin seemingly stole the win at Richmond thanks to a lightning fast pit stop coming to an overtime restart. Last week Hamlin came out in front of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. and went on to victory.

Sunday at Martinsville, Hamlin started 17th and methodically worked his way forward finishing Stage 1 on lap 80 in seventh place. In the second half of the race Hamlin, who leads all active drivers at Martinsville with five wins, seemed to be emerging as the car to beat.

He would win Stage 2 on lap 180 and lead 66 laps. But a call for a green flag stop on lap 299 after most of the rest of the leaders had pitted, put Hamlin inside the top five when the stops cycled through.

But for the second consecutive race an overtime changed everything. After the longest green flag run at Martinsville since 1986, 190 laps, ended when John Hunter Nemechek’s Toyota lost a front brake slamming into the wall and setting up the overtime, Hamlin in fourth, would have a chance to steal the win from William Byron who had a lead of just over 2 seconds coming to the white flag.

Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart made the call for Hamlin to come in for 4 tires.

That proved to be the wrong call. The rest of the leaders stayed out. Hamlin did rejoin the field 10th, but there was no chaos at the end only one restart. The race ended with Byron winning, and Hamlin with a disappointing 11th place finish.

“We were just trying to do anything we could to steal one with our Sport Clips Toyota,” Hamlin said. “We needed so many cars to do it – even still – the tires didn’t wear enough to matter. We saw when Joey (Logano) stayed out on those 80-lap lefts and led most of the stage.

“Tires didn’t wear, and we just struggled to pass all day. Once I came out of that cycle – third or fourth – that’s kind of just where I stayed.”

Greg Engle