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Hamlin pushes past Crafton for win
Denny Hamlin showed just why he is a master of Martinsville Speedway Saturday.
Making a rare appearance in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Hamlin started from the rear after missing the drivers' meeting because of a conflict with Sprint Cup practice, then immediately began to work his way through traffic. He bumped and banged his way to the front, finally taking the lead with six to go.
With little room to maneuver, Hamlin made contact with Matt Crafton in the battle for the win before Hamlin, driving for Cup teammate Kyle Busch, surged from the field and to the victory in the Kroger 200.
In many ways, it was a typical short-track race. Drivers banging door to door, the caution flag flying often and tempers flaring. After the race, some drivers were still banging on one another as Crafton leaned on Hamlin’s truck and Brian Scott spun Nelson Piquet Jr. after the checkered flag flew.
The worst hit of the day, though, came not on the track but in the points standings. Ty Dillon entered the race with the lead, but a flat tire late in the showdown caused him to brush the wall. His team spent several laps repairing the damage before being able to return to the race. He finished 28th – and lost the points lead to James Buescher.
Hamlin, meanwhile, was working his way up through the field and patiently made his moves. It didn’t take all that long. He was 19th by Lap 26. He was in the top 10 by Lap 53. And then he was in the mix, battling with the leaders. Kevin Harvick was, too, leading a race-high 101 laps before cutting a tire late and pitting – losing his shot at the win.
Timothy Peters led 59 laps early, but settled for seventh. And then Crafton led 33 laps before being pushed out of the way by Hamlin – a move that clearly displeased him.
“If you want to call that a pass – that’s just moving somebody,” Crafton said. “Running in the back of somebody. That doesn’t take anything. Anybody can do that.”
He then talked with Hamlin in Victory Lane.
“I told him it took a lot of man to run in the back of somebody,” Crafton said. “Not even try to pass me – didn’t even run behind me for one lap to see what he can do, just ran in the back of me. That’s all he did.”
Hamlin was asked to characterize remarks Crafton made.
“He was really happy about finishing fourth. He was excited about it,” he said coyly, then added. “No - what do you expect? You’re the leader, it’s a few laps to go. … When you’re the leader with a few laps to go, you’ve got to expect that. You’re at Martinsville. You can’t wreck the guy, that’s off limits, but moving them up and out of the groove, that’s a state of protocol at this type of racetrack. For us, I tried to run him clean into (Turn) 1, I gave him a little extra room because I saw he’d been sliding up the racetrack, driving in too deep and sliding up. He still came up and shot us up in the third lane by not holding his line.
“When I went into the next corner, just showed my displeasure and got into the back of him and got him up the racetrack. I would have done that anyway; it didn’t matter if it was that lap or one to go. I knew that it was important to get the lead as soon as possible simply because on these restarts the outside line is not preferred.”
And he did just that. Crafton didn’t get a chance to return the nudge as Piquet and Joey Coulter quickly entered the fray.
They weren’t the only pair pushing drivers around in the usual Martinsville way, though. The race had seven cautions for 40 laps – most after contact between drivers battling for position.
Piquet drove aggressively for his second-place finish, waiting to make his moves then sometimes nudging the competitors out of the way. He was followed by Coulter, Crafton and Scott Riggs. Piquet said he thought he had made his move to second a lap too early and was worried it would cost him the position, but he managed to hold off Coulter.
As for Hamlin, who earned his second Truck win in 15 starts in the series, he’s just hoping this is the first of a pair of Martinsville wins this weekend.
“The techniques that I use personally around this racetrack applies to both series, so for me it’s just more laps on the racetrack and continuing to learn to be better,” Hamlin said.
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