Denny Hamlin was the best driver at Martinsville Speedway – at least through the first stage of the STP 500.
Hamlin dominated the 130-lap stage Monday on his way to his first stage win of the season. Coming off pit road second to start Stage 2, Hamlin quickly retook the lead from Ryan Blaney on the ensuing restart. But when the No. 11 was passed on Lap 145 it never saw the front of the field again.
Of the race’s first 145 laps, Hamlin led for a total of 111. He finished 12th.
“We definitely made our car better from overnight to get more speed out of it,” said Hamlin. “We still have to work on a few things, but this is definitely a step in the right direction from where we’ve been in the past couple of races here. Really happy with the FedEx Camry.
“We didn’t get a good finish like we probably deserved, but all in all, a decent day. No mistakes. We’ll keep building from this.”
The car might not have been as strong as it was in the first stage, but Hamlin was most likely a solid top-10 finisher. However, contact with Kevin Harvick late in the final stage wiped away his track position as he had to pit a second time under caution for his Joe Gibbs Racing team to repair nose damage.
Hamlin felt Harvick had brake-checked him as the two engaged in a furious battle of bumping and shoving. Harvick said it was not intentional, and Hamlin later admitted it all came down to short-track racing.
“I was trying to give him a few taps back after he knocked me out of the way. No hard feelings, I’m not mad or anything,” said Hamlin. “Definitely tore up our racecar pretty good. When he bumped us, we just tried to keep our car under control.
“No hope [for a decent finish] after that unless we had a caution.”