Denny Hamlin led Joe Gibbs Racing with a sixth-place finish in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Meanwhile Joey Logano battled through handling conditions to a 23rd-place finish and an race accident left Kyle Busch in 36th.
Hamlin, who has four career victories on the famed track known as the paperclip, started the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in the third position. He would be patient through the early going as his Camry started off a bit loose on the exit of the turns. With each lap of the long green flag run that opened the race the No. 11 improved and after dropping back outside the top five, Hamlin began to drive his way back toward the front. Once the caution flag did come out the FedEx crew went to work and put Hamlin back out second for the restart. Hamlin would hold that position behind race leader Jeff Gordon through the next portion of the race. Hamlin would remain inside the top five and the car improved with each ensuing pit stop. A tremendous pit stop by the FedEx crew would put him out front on lap 364 for the next restart. He would hold the lead for 30 laps but would eventually relinquish the top spot after a hard battle with the 48. The fight for the lead might have used up Hamlin’s tires as he would drift back to ninth before a caution set up a green white checker finish. He would bring the No. 11 Camry down pit road for four tires and fuel and a big accident on the first attempt allowed him to restart in the sixth position on the second attempt to conclude the race. Hamlin restarted sixth on the outside lane which was unfortunate since the inside lane had proved to be advantageous throughout the day. He managed to drive his way into fourth but was blocked on the outside and unable to advance further. He would finish in the sixth position.
Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the 10th position and battled loosed handling conditions on the exit of the turns through the early portion of the race, but like his teammate Hamlin he did appear to improve the longer the run continued. After the first pit stop, Logano was better on the subsequent restart and managed to gain several spots, but then things turned the other way and suddenly he found his Home Depot Camry had gone extremely tight. He would fall back just outside the top 20 and lose a lap to the leaders. Logano was running 19th and was one of several cars a lap down at the midpoint of the race with only 12 total cars on the lead lap at that point. Logano would remain battling just inside the top 20 and patiently waited for an opportunity to get back on the lead lap. That opportunity would finally come on lap 365 when the 20 team took the wave around under caution. That allowed him to restart 18th on lap 367. Unfortunately the handling issues persisted and Logano would finish the day 23rd.
Busch, started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in eighth and was experiencing some of the same early race handling issues that plagued his teammates, but was holding steady inside the top 15 waiting for the first caution so his crew could make the necessary adjustments to his car. Unfortunately Busch would be the cause for the day’s first caution when something appeared to break on the rear end of his car on lap 97 causing him to shoot up the track and into the wall. The damage to the rear of his car from the contact with the wall was extensive and sent him to the garage. By the time Busch returned to the track he was 80 laps down to the leaders. He would go on to finish 37th.
Ryan Newman captured the victory, while A.J. Almendinger was second, Dale Earnhardt, Jr third, Matt Kenseth fourth, and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top five. There were seven cautions for a total of 56 laps with 19 lead changes among 10 different drivers. The race was extended 15 laps for two green white checker finish attempts.
Both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series both will be off next week during the Easter holiday weekend. Both Series return the following weekend in Texas.