Hamlin Accomplishes Martinsville Mission

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin closed the gap in the standings to six points with his 15th career victory. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Denny Hamlin did exactly what he set out to do this weekend winning Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway to cut Jimmie Johnson’s lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to six points.

Hamlin started from the pole but fell back in the early going only to rally back to score his third straight win at the .526-mile track.

He was able to move around Kevin Harvick for the top spot with 29 laps to go and went on to his fourth win at Martinsville and 15th of his Sprint Cup career.

“That’s about the best I’ve ever been able to close,” said Hamlin, whose strong charge down the stretch brought his home state Virginia fans to their feet. “Winning here means everything to me and when I see the fans react the way they did it really adds to it all."

With Johnson’s fifth-place finish Hamlin cut 35 points off the Sprint Cup Series point lead and trails by a mere six points with only four races remaining.

"This is just about best case scenario,” Hamlin said. “I like being behind and chasing a guy. I do not like playing defense at all."

Hamlin became the sixth different driver to win in the first six races of this year’s Chase schedule and became the first driver since Johnson in 2007 to sweep Martinsville.

Mark Martin rallied back from early race problems including a spin and trip into the wall to finish an impressive second.

“Gosh, that was so much fun," Martin said. “And it was such a bad day. I was running out of brakes at lap 30 and you know, I thought this was going to be the longest day of my life.”

Harvick started 36th and marched his way to the front of the field to notch the third-place finishing position and in the process move to within 62 points of Johnson.

“Everybody said it was a two-horse race, and we were right there in the middle of it,” Harvick said.

Kyle Busch and Johnson completed the top five.

“It was a solid performance; something we can't be disappointed in,” said Johnson. “I wish we were a little better but there is a lot of racing left."

Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had the crowd on its feet when he led more than 90 laps in the race’s second half, finished sixth and seventh, respectively.

Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowski completed the first ten finishers.

There were several tangles and scuffles throughout the 500-lap grind including a couple between teammates.

Burton and Harvick traded paint near the front of the field early on, resulting in some angry radio communication between the two teams.

Johnson and Gordon also made contact racing for position on track. Gordon’s day however got worse.

While the DuPont Chevrolet was fast and Gordon led early on, he and Kurt Busch made contact battling for position through turns three and four. The angry Busch quickly ran down Gordon on the frontstretch and touched his rear bumper, sending the No. 24 spinning into the inside wall and to an eventual 20th-place finish.

“Kurt Busch doesn’t have a very long fuse so either it was pay-back or he just got angry really quick and decided to wreck us,” said Gordon. “We just did what we could do to come home with the best finish we could.”

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Talladega Superspeedway for next Sunday’s AMP Energy Juice 500.

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