“When we come here, obviously we expect to win and we feel like we can every time we come in through the tunnel,” Denny Hamlin says. “It’s always been a great race track for us. Even the times where it shows we finished bad, I know that we led at some point during that day and we were competitive. Really, based off our performances, definitely our best race track that we’re coming to.”
Every time Denny Hamlin comes to Martinsville Speedway, he runs well and the statistics show that. In 13 starts, he has four wins, nine top fives and 11 top 10s. Hamlin says he thinks to be good at Martinsville, you just have to have that nitch.
“You’ve got it from the beginning or you don’t,” he says. “This track races different than any track we go to on our circuit. All the other short tracks, you can relate to some other place, but this one is just so unique that for me, it’s the short tracks that I grew up on is why I feel like I’m as good as I am at this race track. It’s just like them. I’ve raced plenty of laps around here in a late model before I even got here in the Cup Series. I think track time has helped me, but even then I was competitive and I was good at it. It’s just different. I don’t know what it is and why some drivers struggle or why some drivers are better.”
One of the reasons this is the case is it’s a tough track to figure out because there’s so many little things you need to know. Hamlin adds that it’s hard to teach them all.
Though he also says one of the keys is that he is very patient at the beginning of the race.
“That seems to pay off later in the day,” he says. “I don’t knock guys around, knock them out of the way and tear up my fenders right off the get-go when I get frustrated. I just take what the car gives me at the beginning — if it’s a 20th place car, we’ll run there for a while. I think a lot of guys who maybe struggle at this place, they’re level of anxiety raises when they get into with someone and that just ricochets and makes your whole day worse than it already is. I think the patience factor helps a lot and you have to be in good graces with a lot of guys to run well here typically.”
Going into Martinsville this year, he has a different crew chief than other years. Mike Ford had worked with Hamlin up until this year, as Darian Grubb takes over. Grubb, though, has had success at Martinsville as he won with Stewart last fall.
So far this season working with Grubb, Hamlin sits seventh in points with a win and two top fives in five races.
“It’s been good so far,” Hamlin comments. “What he’s brought to us is obviously a lot of knowledge and a lot of race wins – just a different way of thinking basically. He thinks a little bit further outside the box than we do as far as setups he runs. We’re trying to incorporate the two and figure out which ones better for me — what I had been running or what he is used to running.”
Hamlin says they are using each weekend to work through that and until they start going back to tracks, it is like starting over. Right now, they’re stuck comparing notes that Grubb has and Hamlin has.
“Until we go back to these tracks for a second time, I think that’s where we’re really going to be strong,” he continues. “That’s when I expect the race win column to pick up.”
For now, the focus is on this weekend and being successful at Martinsville, beating everybody including six-time Martinsville Speedway winner Jimmie Johnson.
“He can take a sub-par car and run in the top-three with it, that might not be the best car,” Hamlin comments. “His range and his box of competing really well here is bigger than guys who are not as good that need that perfect car to really run well. He’s probably one of the guys like myself that has a ton of confidence going in here that if you just give us a soap box derby car and we should be able to win with it.”