Denny Hamlin wins Martinsville
Joe Gibbs Racing brought four strong cars to battle at the famed short track of Martinsville Speedway in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500.
Denny Hamlin would win and it appeared his teammates would join the celebration in the top ten with the team running first, second, fifth and sixth and just 75 laps remaining. Matt Kenseth and David Ragan finished strong days with fourth- and fifth-place finishes respectively and only two late-race flat tires kept Carl Edwards for joining them up front as he finished 17th.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota from the 15th position but as is often the case at the famed short track, the now five-time Martinsville winner showed great speed as he worked his way through the field to take his first lead of the day on lap 148. Hamlin would lead the next 17 laps before a caution brought the leaders down pit road. A penalty for an uncontrolled tire during the ensuing stop would force him toward the back of the lead lap cars and he would restart 27th on lap 172. Following a caution Hamlin would restart back inside the top-20 in 19th on lap 188 and was up to 14th by lap 200. He would re-enter to top 10 at the halfway mark of the 500-lap race. Hamlin would restart fifth on lap 283 following a round of pit stops. He would continue his march forward as he took over third on lap 308 and second-place just two laps later. The run would be completed on lap 317 when he passed the 2 car to take the lead once again. He would restart third following another round of stops on lap 363 and found the lead once again with 100 laps remaining. A caution would bring the field down pit road again and Hamlin would restart fifth with 61 laps to go. Hamlin would make his way back to the front passing his teammate Kenseth with 28 laps remaining. He would hold off the 2 car over the final laps to earn his first win of the 2015 season and fifth career victory at Martinsville Speedway. The win essentially clinches his spot in the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Championship.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in eighth. The outside lane proved problematic all day on restarts and Kenseth would drop several position outside the top 15 on an early restart, but he would manage to recover and was back inside the top ten again for a restart on lap 188. He ran sixth at lap 200 and was seventh at the halfway mark. Kenseth would restart fourth on lap 283 following a round of green flag stops and lined up second for a restart on lap 363 following another great stop by the Dollar General crew. A great pit stop again put Kenseth on point for the restart with 61 laps to go. Kenseth would hold the lead with less than 30 laps to go, but was unable to hold off his teammate Hamlin. The Dollar General Camry would finish a strong day with a fourth-place finish.
David Ragan qualified the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota in 20th and was able to fight his way through the tight field to race in 15th. Ragan would continue to battle in that spot and was running 13th at lap 200 and continued to hold that position at the midpoint of the race. The M&Ms Crispy would restart the race inside the top ten from eighth on lap 283 following a round of pit stops. Ragan held his spot inside the top five throughout the next green flag run and lined up seventh for restart on lap 363 following another great stop by the M&Ms Crispy crew. A caution would bring the field down pit road once again and Ragan would restart seventh with 61 laps to go. He would gain two more spots to deliver a fifth-place finish.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota in 11th and was able to drive his way inside the top five to run fourth on lap 75. Edwards would remain racing in the top ten and restarted eighth on lap 188 and held that spot at lap 200. He would run third at the midpoint of the race. Edwards would have the ARRIS Camry out front to restart the race 283 on lap following a round of pit stops. Edwards would restart fifth on lap 363 following another strong pit stop by the ARRIS crew. He was running fifth when he right rear tire went flat causing him to slow and ultimately spin with 68 laps remaining. He would restart back outside the top 20 with 61 laps remaining. Edwards would suffer another flat, this time on the left rear tire coming out of the pits following a final round of stops. He would have to come back down pit road for new tires and battled back from the setbacks to finish 17th.
Hamlin captured the win, followed by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kenseth, and Ragan rounded out the top five. There were 16 cautions for a total of 112 laps and 31 lead changes among 13 different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will take a week off for the Easter holiday next week before returning for a Saturday night race at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11.