By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Denny Hamlin kept his No. 11 Toyota up front for more than half of Sunday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but in the closing laps didn’t have enough to hold off teammate Martin Truex, Jr. and had to settle for a third-place result.
The five-time Martinsville winner noted that it all came down to his car being fast on the short runs, but not so much on the long runs, which allowed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate the opportunity to pass him for the lead with 16 laps to go.
Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott was also able to get past him in the final run to the checkers, with Hamlin still able to bring home a podium finish.
“That’s just the cards we were dealt,” Hamlin said after leading for 273 laps. “We had a really good short run car. We just didn’t have a good long run car. We saved a set of tires – we had the tire advantage – but we couldn’t get the car to turn on the long run. That was the bugaboo, you could say, but overall, the FedEx Camry team performed well. We had a really fast car for 20 laps or so, and then it would just kind of go away. Fortunate for us, we had a great day and had ourselves a shot at it, but just wasn’t quite good enough.
“The last run was kind of a worst-case scenario because we had new tires and no cycles, where during the middle of the race we kept cycling our tires because of the cautions. It was the worst-case scenario, really exploited kind of our setup and our weakness there with 15 or so to go.
Despite not yet being able to close the deal and make a trip to Victory Lane this season, Hamlin has been strong through the first eight races, finishing in the top-five in all but one race, with his lowest finish of the season coming with an 11th place run at Homestead in February.
“It’s just been amazing the execution that our team has had over the first eight races,” Hamlin said. “Short of a pit road penalty I had on the last pit stop at Homestead, we finished top three every single week.
“It’s hard to be disappointed with that. We’re executing phenomenal. We just haven’t had that dominant car that we’ve had a few times last year that we just beat up on everyone. We just haven’t had that car yet. We’ve just been next best.”
With Richmond Raceway up next on the schedule, Hamlin will be looking for a bit of home track luck to propel him to his first win of 2021. Hailing from nearby Chesterfield, Virginia, Hamlin has won three times at the three-quarter mile track and should be in the mix once again to be able to capture another win there.