Denny Hamlin knew the grandfather clock was ticking on his time at the front before teammate Martin Truex Jr. got the best of him at Martinsville Speedway.
It turned out to be true. Although Hamlin took the lead from Truex on lap 459, off the last restart of the race, Hamlin didn’t have a long run car and wasn’t able to put any separation between himself and Truex. With 25 laps to go, Truex started to work Hamlin over for the lead.
On lap 485 of 500, Truex made the winning pass on Hamlin and drove away. Hamlin eventually lost the runner-up spot and finished third.
“I thought it was a matter of time,” Hamlin said. “With about 25 to go or so, he already got into my rear bumper, kind of beating the back end off. It was just a matter of time. The only hope, we had an extra set of tires over everyone. Hell, we would have pitted, taken tires, restarted 20th. That wasn’t going to work either.
“Tough to say. We weren’t stuck in a box where we could make good in a long run. The reason we led so many laps is we had a lot of short runs, great starts in the middle of the race, not much green flag racing. When we had green flag racing, again, we were fast a little time, not a lot of time.”
Hamlin was the class of the field by leading the most laps, 276, in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. The No. 11 team repeatedly got Hamlin off pit road first until the last stop. But Hamlin’s strong short-run car quickly put him back out in front on the ensuing restart, and he did so by powering around Truex from the outside lane.
“There’s just nothing I could have done I feel as a driver differently today,” said Hamlin. “I feel like I executed well on pit road. Obviously, we were the only car that could take the lead on the restart on the outside multiple times. Sometimes the cards are dealt to you where you got a short run car, and at the end of the race comes down to a 40-lap run. That’s just outside your window of greatness.
“It’s just been amazing the execution that our team has had over the first eight races. Short of a pit road penalty I had on the last pit stop at Homestead, we finished top three every single week. It’s hard to be disappointed with that. We’re executing phenomenal. We just haven’t had that dominant car that we’ve had a few times last year that we just beat up on everyone. We just haven’t had that car yet. We’ve just been next best.”
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Despite still looking for his first win of the season, Hamlin continues to lead the overall point standings, sitting ahead of Truex by 76 points.
Hamlin has finished no worse than 11th through eight races with seven top-five finishes. He’s already led over 480 laps. The only negative is that Hamlin has just three playoff points.
“We definitely would like to have more, for sure,” he said. “But the way we’re running, we can win any given week. We’ve just gotten beat by one or two cars each and every week that have just hit the set up a little bit better than we did.
“But it is hard to complain. I don’t know what the record is for most points scored in eight races, but I think we pretty much got to be there. We don’t finish any worse than third in every stage, obviously, we’re finishing in the top three or four every race. Just keep building on that, look at the positives, try not to be negative. Wins, we’re getting closer. We’re getting there. Nothing saying we can’t win the next three races in a row.”