If you had to pick any driver to come from the back of the field during a 200-lap race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the discussion wouldn't go much further than the name Denny Hamlin. After rain halted NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying twice and the session ended just prior to the start of Sprint Cup Series practice, Hamlin - who is still in the heat of the Chase for the Sprint Cup - elected to hop in his No. 11 Camry and take the penalty of starting at the back off the grid for the Kroger 200.
Once inside the cockpit of Kyle Busch Motorsports' (KBM) No. 51 Toyota Tundra, the Virginia native methodically worked his way towards the front of the field. Hamlin had made his way to the runner-up spot by the time that the final caution of the race occurred on lap 188. On the ensuing restart, race-leader Matt Crafton ran the No. 51 Tundra up the hill as the two Toyota's raced side-by-side for the lead into Turn 1. Crafton maintained the lead down the backstretch, but Hamlin executed the perfect bump-and-run going into Turn 3 and then clocked out over the final four laps. By the time the checkered flag waved, Hamlin had distanced himself from the rest of the field by 1.932 seconds en route to his sixth career NASCAR victory at his home-state venue.
"I love this place and, man, that's short track racing at its finest," said Hamlin, who picked up his second victory in four career starts for KBM. "I gave the 88 (Matt Crafton) extra room on the outside. I went to the second lane and didn't want to crowd him into (turn) one and tried to pass him on the outside and he shoved up into me and pushed me into the third groove. I just got back to him, so I didn't wreck him or anything like that -- you're going have contact at Martinsville. I would expect the same thing from anyone else. I tell you I've lost a bunch that way and just proud of this whole effort. I have to thank everyone from Toyota for putting this deal together -- they didn't really have much of a sponsor for it - thanks to everyone at KBM for having me back. Just got to thank everyone who is a part of this program because I don't get to race these races that often, so I've got to take advantage of them when I do."
After pacing the field during final Truck Series practice on Friday afternoon, Hamlin earned the honor of being the last Truck to take to 'The Paperclip' for Saturday morning's qualifying session. After earning the fifth starting position, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver headed for the Sprint Cup Series garage for final practice.
Hamlin reached the top 10 for the first time on lap 55 and by lap 90 had moved his way into the top-three. When a one-car accident slowed the field for the third time on lap 94, veteran crew chief Rick Ren summoned his driver to pit road for the first time. The over-the-wall crew executed a four-tire and fuel stop and returned their driver to the track scored in the sixth position.
On lap 152, the No. 51 Tundra was scored in the fourth position when a caution occurred. Hamlin, who communicated that his Toyota had gotten too loose, came down pit road again for four fresh tires, a full tank of fuel and another air pressure adjustment.
The race went back green on lap 159, but the race was slowed again by another caution on lap 165 with Hamlin in the fourth position. Hamlin, who restarted from the outside lane, radioed to his crew, "If I'm able to get to the bottom on this restart without losing positions, we can win this thing."
The veteran driver battled his way into the second position shortly after the restart, where he would remain until the final caution of the race slowed the field on lap 188. On the final restart, Hamlin wouldn't be denied the victory, as he muscled his way into the lead and checked out on the field.
The win was Hamlin's sixth across NASCAR's top-three divisions at his home-state track. Nelson Piquet Jr. finished in the second spot and Joey Coulter finished third. Crafton and Scott Riggs rounded out the top-five finishers. Hamlin's teammate Brian Scott came home 10th after spending much of the race inside the top-five.
There were seven caution periods for 40 laps. Five different drivers led at least one lap, exchanging the lead 40 times, including Hamlin who led once for six laps. Only five drivers failed to finish the race.
Germàn Quiroga will make his second 2012 Truck Series start for KBM when the NASCAR's third division returns to action Friday, Nov. 2, driving the NET10 Wireless® Tundra in the WinStar World Casino 350 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race begins at 8 p.m. ET, with SPEED's live coverage commencing with the NCWTS Setup Show at 7:30 p.m. ET.