Driving with a torn ACL and surgery scheduled as early as late Monday evening, Denny Hamlin was looking for relief before embarking on a tough rest of the season ahead of him. With many questioning his abilities and chances with his injury and upcoming surgery, Hamlin proved them wrong the only way he knew how…dominating Monday’s race in Martinsville.
Starting in the 19th spot, Hamlin had his work was cut out for him – especially with the heavy braking required on the tight half-mile in Martinsville. By Lap 168 Hamlin’s pit crew helped get him into the top-10 and on Lap 230 the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota took the lead for the first time. From then on out it was Hamlin’s race to lose, leading six times for a total of 172 laps.
Nearly giving the race away with a late-race pit stop, Hamlin came from ninth with four laps to go to score the victory. The perfect pain relief for a guy about to go under the knife.
“We’re going to have to deal with the cards we were dealt. Just like we did at the end of this race, things don’t always happen the way you planned,” Hamlin said. “It was frustrating we couldn’t get [the surgery] done. This is definitely a good alternative.”
The win was not easy by any means. Besides dealing with an injured knee, Hamlin fought throughout the final 250 laps with Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff Burton. Once Burton was forced to pit road with a flat tire with seven laps to go, it appeared Hamlin was on his way to an easy victory. Risking the win, crew chief Mike Ford called his driver to pit road for four tires and fuel.
Restarting with four laps to go, Hamlin had eight cars to pass if he wanted to celebrate in front of his home state fans. Taking the green flag, Hamlin jumped up on the wheel and took it three wide before moving to fourth. About to take the white flag behind Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth, Hamlin was given another shot at the win when Kyle Busch was spun by Paul Menard.
When the field took the green flag for the final time, the front three cars got together and opened the door for Hamlin to move to the lead. With teammate Joey Logano behind him, Hamlin was able to score the win.
“I remember getting into the back of the 39 [Newman],” Hamlin said of the final restart. “I think the 17 [Kenseth] got in the back of the 24 [Gordon]. I don’t know where the 39 went. I might have knocked him up high. I don’t even know, to be honest with you. I wanted to click over [on the team radio] before that restart and tell the 20 [Logano] if for some reason I got bottled up to please let me in. He’s racing for the win just like I am but his odds are going to be a lot less restarting fifth.
“So instead I had to force my way in,” Hamlin said. “I came down on the 20 coming off two and I saw that the 24 and the 17 were kind of locked together going down the backstretch. I was going to stick it three-wide. As soon as I saw my lift point I saw the 17 still going in. I said ‘Well, I can’t make it with new tires. There’s no way he can make it with old tires.’ I knew the best to do was be patient, let him slide up. When he was slid up, the 24 is on the outside, so he took him with him. I felt like going down the backstretch, I knew it was my race to win at that point.”
With the win, Hamlin’s surgery was again delayed as he was not willing to go under the knife after winning at one of his favorite tracks. The injury bothered the Joe Gibbs Racing driver for much the event, especially over the final 100 laps. Refusing to let it bother him, Hamlin focused on getting the job done and did just that. Hey, what better way to put pain out of your mind then toasting champagne?