The NASCAR Cup Series’ first dirt race in more than 50 years was postponed a day last weekend after heavy weekend rains washed out Sunday’s planned track activity. The wait seemed to be worth it, as a limited-capacity crowd cheered Monday as Denny Hamlin led the field to the green flag for the first of 253 laps.
The FedEx Racing driver inherited the race lead after an engine change forced pole-sitter No. 5 driver, Kyle Larson to start from the back. Hamlin led the first lap before his loose-handling car dropped him back outside the top five. But, even with the unfamiliar racing conditions of the temporary dirt track, the FedEx team stayed competitive throughout the 127-mile event, racing near the front and picking up stage points. The No. 11 Toyota team was in second and battling leader Joey Logano when the yellow flag flew on Lap 246, forcing a green-white-checkered finish. During the two-lap dash to the finish, Hamlin tried to pass Logano on the outside, but lost traction and fell back to third, allowing Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to cross the finish line ahead of him. The third-place result was Hamlin’s fourth consecutive top-five finish, padding his championship points lead to 58.
“NASCAR and Bristol Motor Speedway did a great job with the dirt race,” Hamlin said.
“I’m ready to get back onto some asphalt. Martinsville is always a place we take confidence to, even when we know we need to keep making improvements to our short track program.”
The series shakes the dirt off its feet from Bristol and heads to the shortest and oldest track on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, Martinsville Speedway, the paperclip-shaped short track that typically produces a lot of bumping and banging on track — and occasionally some anger among the drivers. Hamlin and the FedEx Racing team have five wins at the Ridgeway, Virginia short track. Hamlin, a Virginia native will look to win his sixth Martinsville grandfather clock trophy on Saturday under the lights.
Hamlin Statistics – Martinsville Speedway
Laps Led: 1608
Avg. Start: 8.7
Avg. Finish: 9.9
Hamlin’s hopes for Martinsville were strong, building on momentum so far built in early 2021.
“We’re obviously on a strong run with all the top-fives we have, so we’re doing a lot of things right,” Hamlin said.
“It’s just a matter of time before we get ourselves upfront at the checkers. In the meantime, we’re going to keep working on collecting stage points and growing our lead any way we can.”