Hamlin hopes to lock up Championship 4 berth
Denny Hamlin’s championship aspirations came .006 seconds away from evaporating at Talladega last Sunday. Fortunately for the No. 11 Toyota driver, he beat Kurt Busch to the finish line by .006 seconds (appx. two feet) for a third-place result that earned him the final spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Round of 8 over Austin Dillon.
Now holding the same amount of points as the remaining eight Chase-eligible drivers, Hamlin is back at square one heading into Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at his hometown track – and also one of his best tracks – Martinsville Speedway (1 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
In 21 career starts at Martinsville, the Chesterfield, Virginian boasts five wins (third-most among active drivers), 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. A visit to Victory Lane on Sunday would earn him a berth in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month.
“We have some of our best tracks still coming up, and obviously that starts with Martinsville this weekend,” Hamlin said. “I have always maintained that if we can get to this Round of 8 in the Chase, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
In addition to Martinsville, Hamlin runs strong at the other two Round of 8 tracks as well – Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. Among the remaining eight Chase drivers, Hamlin’s 10.9 average finish at the three Round of 8 tracks trails only Jimmie Johnson’s 7.9 average showing. His eight combined wins at the three ovals – five at Martinsville, two at Texas and one at Phoenix – rank third behind Johnson’s 18 and Kevin Harvick’s nine.
Despite his past success, Hamlin understands future results aren’t guaranteed.
“The competition is certainly really good at this level, so it will be up to us to perform when it counts,” he said. “We have confidence every time we go to Martinsville, and our focus this week will be to go there and get the victory.”
Byron ready for next step at title hunt
Because he won the first race of the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase, the last two events of the Round of 8 had little to no impact on William Byron’s title chances.
The heat is back on Byron now as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase Round of 6 kicks off with Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1).
“It’s a little bit hard to remember what that pressure was like in the first round since we only had one race before we won,” he said. “Now we get to go back and really focus again, which I think is probably more fun and more productive than what we’ve had to do the last two races. I’m looking forward to that intensity being back, having our backs against the wall and needing to perform well again. It’s kind of an adrenaline rush to perform well in those situations.”
Celebrating in Victory Lane has become commonplace for Byron, who leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with a rookie-record six wins this season. The 18-year-old phenom also paces the series in top fives (10), average running position (8.0), laps led (572) and driver rating (105.8).
Byron’s lone prior start at Martinsville came in April. He finished third for his first career top-five showing.
“It’s such a difficult place compared to many of the other tracks, but it also trends toward the things I learned in short track racing with late models,” Byron said. “I think we’re going to have a great Liberty University Tundra, continue the upward trend we’ve had at the short tracks this year and improve on our third-place finish at Martinsville in the spring to hopefully get a win there this weekend.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Goody’s Fast Relief 500
Place: Martinsville Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 263 miles (500 laps)
What to Watch For: Jimmie Johnson tries to register his ninth Martinsville win as he chases his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. … Spring Martinsville winner Kyle Busch continues his title defense by attempting to sweep “The Paperclip.” … Jeff Gordon hopes to defend his Martinsville victory from last fall in what is likely his final NASCAR race. If Gordon leads 64 laps he will become only the sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver all-time to lead 25,000 or more laps, joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson. … Only seven of the 135 races (5.2%) at Martinsville have been won from a starting position outside the top 20 – two of these occurred in 2015 (Denny Hamlin, spring; Jeff Gordon, fall).
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Texas Roadhouse 200
Place: Martinsville Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 105.2 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series kicks of its Round of 6 with drivers William Byron, Christopher Bell, Matt Crafton, Ben Kennedy, Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter. Crafton (twice), Sauter (twice) and Peters (once) have all won at Martinsville. … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Chase Elliott, 20, will pilot a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series truck for the first time since 2013. In nine NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts – all in 2013 – Elliott boasts one win, five top-five and seven top-10 finishes. … NASCAR Next member Harrison Burton – son of 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner and NBC Sports NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton – will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut.