After sitting out last week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota, Denny Hamlin, is back in full swing this weekend at Martinsville.
With an impressive qualifying run, Hamlin will start in second position sharing the front row with teammate Kyle Busch. Commenting on his qualifying effort, Hamlin said, “It was a solid qualifying effort for us. I kind of knew while I was running the lap that is wasn’t a pole-type lap. Surprisingly, it ended up as close as we did. Just fought loose most of the time. I think the track is pretty free right now in general. It’s tough. These cars are putting down more horsepower than they ever have so it’s harder and harder to get your car to come off the corner and that was what we fought through the two sessions. It got progressively worse from the second session from the first. Obviously, just came up a bit short.”
With the inside line being the preferred racing line at Martinsville, Hamlin was asked by media members if his outside starting position will hurt him in the STP 500. Hamlin commented, “A little bit yeah—on restarts that can really hurt you for sure. The one good thing you can have is teammates up front that cut you breaks here and there and that’s what we’ve done a lot with the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 20 (Matt Kenseth) over the last couple years is cutting each other breaks, giving that position back after you get going green because once you do get hung up on the high side you definitely are at a huge disadvantage over the bottom lane. I would much rather be fifth on the bottom than second on the outside pole any day. There’s a lot of time to make it up. It’s just those last crucial restarts where you definitely want to put yourself on the bottom.”
Having four previous wins at the Martinsville paperclip, with nine top-5 and thirteen top-10 finishes, Denny was asked if his focus is different this weekend with his confidence to win. He replied, “Not really. The focus is the same. I don’t do anything differently. You just have to perform. I knew, even going into this weekend I knew we were going to be really good contenders and be in the mix anyway. I feel like after running a couple laps of practice I felt like this was a car that was capable of winning. I think really this year with tire management being more of a factor than it’s ever been, it kind of lends itself to my driving style even more. For that reason I think we’ll be tough on Sunday.”
Hamlin and his Joes Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, will lead the field to green for the STP 500 on Sunday at 1:00pm at Martinsville Speedway.