By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Who provides Denny Hamlin his most formidable competition at Martinsville?
No, it’s not Jimmie Johnson, who has won eight times at the fabled short track. And it’s not Joey Logano, who has won the last three poles at Martinsville.
Denny Hamlin’s stiffest competition at the .526-mile speedway is Denny Hamlin, because, all too often, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has beaten himself.
“I don’t know how many pit road penalties I’ve had here at this race track, or why I choose to push it on pit road knowing that I have the speed on the race track that we’ve shown,” Hamlin said before qualifying on Friday.
“I think I’ve had two in the last bunch of races, just consecutively. That’s been a challenge, and last year in the fall race I beat up my car pretty good trying to come back through the pack the second time or maybe it was the first time I had a penalty.”
Hamlin will try to be more cautious on pit road in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, because he feels he can’t afford another penalty.
“You can’t if you’re going to win, especially the bonehead things that I’ve done,” said Hamlin, a five-time winner in 20 Martinsville starts. “I’ve had my penalties in the race where what does it really matter on lap 80 if you gain a spot on pit road, since you have so many more laps.
“Luckily, most of my penalties have been early in the race, but still it takes its toll on the car to have to come through the pack multiple times.”
Image: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images