By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Denny Hamlin headed into Martinsville Speedway with high hopes to overcome mistakes from recent visits at the half-mile oval, but Sunday’s STP 500 proved no different for the defending Daytona 500 champion.
Hamlin, 35, had five wins in 20 previous races at Martinsville, including 16 top 10 finishes, but he acknowledged earlier in the week that recent mistakes have hurt his chances to secure wins.
Sunday proved to be no different.
From the start of the race Hamlin was a man on the move, but it was in the early stages that he encountered a repeat of recent mistakes, a pit road speeding penalty. Hamlin then began staging a significant charge up through the field, but the run would be halted and later his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry found the wall on lap 221 of the 500 lap event.
While diving into the turn, Hamlin encountered wheel hop, significantly damaging his car and any hopes of a sixth win at the historic track.
“It’s my first time ever doing it here,” Hamlin said about the wheel hop incident. “So it’s a little embarrassing, but I mean we were the fastest car those last 30 laps and we got back to the top-five and I was making up a lot of my speed on entry.
“As the tires wear, the rears get hotter, less grip, you can’t brake at the same amount and I just – it was really out of the blue. I didn’t ever have a hint of it up until that moment, so a bit of a rookie move on my part – been around here too much to do something like that, but learning for the fall and I’m really encouraged about how good our car came up through the pack and I really thought we had a car that could win.”
Image: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images