There was a time where Denny Hamlin was the guy to beat at Martinsville Speedway. The Virginia native won at The Paperclip five times in his first 10 years in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
But Hamlin’s last won at the track in 2015, but he only lost by a nose to Joey Logano at the track last fall. He didn’t have anything for STP 500 winner Brad Keselowski on Sunday afternoon (March 24), but Hamlin came away with a fifth-place finish.
“It was just one of those days where one guy kind of hit it and was just a little bit better than everyone else that’s chasing him,” Hamlin said.
The result marks Hamlin’s third top five of the season, his fourth consecutive top 10 and his fifth of the six races so far in 2019. Hamlin has now finished in the top five in more than 50 percent of his races at Martinsville.
“We’re good,” Hamlin said about Joe Gibbs Racing. “This particular week, the [Team] Penske cars looked like they were slightly better. The [No.] 12 was very good as well. But certainly, we’re right there in the hunt. We have race-winning cars, we know that. We just got to get our handling better.”
But Hamlin thought the result could’ve been even better. Hamlin was running in the top five when he was penalized for an uncontrolled tire late in the race. Despite the setback, Hamlin raced his way back up to fifth but ran out of laps.
“Kind of seemed like we were the next car in line after the [No.] 9 there so [we were] probably a third-place car there and finished fifth because we lost right there on pit road,” Hamlin said. “We have a lot of races where we have to battle back from the pack, but certainly another top five and overall a steady day. We just need a little bit more speed, a little bit more handling to hang with the [No.] 2 there.”
Despite the pit road penalty, Hamlin was not mad at his team. After all, there was a time where he had a reputation (maybe he still does) for getting pit road speeding penalties.
“We got to get better [on pit road]. We know that,” Hamlin said. “We’re struggling a little bit right now, for sure. But certainly it’s a team thing. Last week, I had a speeding penalty so it all equals out. If you’re going to be the best car, then you have to execute perfectly. And the best car didn’t falter, so it wouldn’t have made a difference either way. But it certainly cost us maybe one or two spots today. But nothing to hang our heads about, overall a good day.”
The No. 11 Toyota had nothing for Keselowski’s Ford, but didn’t try any strategy at any point to gain track position. Hamlin said the team didn’t try two tires at the end because the race was filled with long green flag runs.
“We never really had like a 20-lap run and then a caution,” Hamlin said. “With all the long runs, you pretty much always had to take four [tires].”
The 2019 season is already off to a much better start than last year for Hamlin. He’s already picked up a win this season in the Daytona 500, and he currently sits second in points, 21 points behind JGR teammate Kyle Busch.