MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Denny Hamlin surged to the front after a blunder and won the rain-delayed NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway in a wild finish.
The victory was Hamlin’s second straight and came on the shortest, oldest track in the Sprint Cup Series.
Hamlin gave up the lead with less than 10 laps left Monday when he headed to pit road for tires. He then rallied from ninth place to the lead in a span of just four laps.
“That’s hard to do. I had to bully my way through there towards the end, but everybody was just running into everyone,” Hamlin said. “I flattened my tired with Kenseth going down the backstretch and just somehow made it work.”
First, he hugged the inside into the first turn, forcing three-wide racing that almost never leads to good things. He plowed his way into fourth place before teammate Kyle Busch spun out, bringing out a caution.
The finish was an overtime two-lap sprint on which Hamlin started fourth, pushed Ryan Newman out of the way, then slipped inside Matt Kenseth and leader Jeff Gordon for the victory — and the kind of racing that made about 30,000 fans glad they came on a work day.
The race was originally scheduled for Sunday, but was postponed by rain.
Hamlin also got help from Busch, whose spinout brought out the last caution and set up the two-lap finish, and teammate Joey Logano, who helped block for him on the final lap.
Logano wound up second, followed by Gordon, Newman and Martin Truex Jr.
All day, the race shaped up as a two-car battle between Hamlin and Jeff Burton, with the fellow Virginians leading almost all of the final 300 laps. That was until Hamlin and Busch pitted running first and second, handing the lead to a very grateful Gordon.
Hamlin had led for 89 consecutive laps until heading for pit road.
Gordon has won seven times at Martinsville, the most among active drivers, but had not been in contention to win in the second half of the race until he was handed the lead.
But with Hamlin on four fresh tires and everyone else having changed theirs about 75 laps earlier, they had no defense when Hamlin found openings and plowed his car through them.
The day was a long one for Kevin Harvick, who started the day as the points leader, led the first 44 laps after starting on the pole and was running in the top 5 when something broke on his car and he headed to the garage. When he returned, he was 34 laps behind.
Jimmie Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, finished ninth and moved into the points lead, 14 ahead of Greg Biffle after six races. Kenseth is third, 16 back.