“We don't need the car, you can burn her down,” was what Denny Hamlin's crew told him at the Virginia native as he celebrated a home state win on Martinsville's tight oval.
“It's good. It's a good bounce back,” said Denny in the makeshift victory lane, thrown up on the track's start-finish line. “The last two weeks are in the past.”
Hamlin was able to fight his way to front, taking the lead for the first time on lap 183 or the 500 lap, 500 mile race. He then took the lead for good on lap 363.
Hamlin's no.11 Fedex sponsored Toyota was better on the longer runs, which were sparse early on as the typical array of short track spins and tyre problems (two separate cautions were solely for Dale Earnhardt Jr.) brought the race eleven caution periods inside the first 300 laps.
Aside from another tough week for Jr. (the only one of the four Hendrick drivers not contesting the Chase) it was also a week to forget for Roger Penske's Dodge team, with drivers David Stremme and and Sam Hornish Jr. tangling not once, but twice, Hornish coming off second best with second incident leaving his no.77 car smoking his way into the garages. He would eventually finish 36th, Stremme 33rd win a warning for aggressive driving under his belt after he also spun out Martin Truex Jr.
The latter stages of the race were different. As the leaders fought their way through first the drivers who had elected for different strategies, only taking two tyres, or not pitting at all, then starting lapping tail-enders once more Hamlin was able to catch Jimmie Johnson, before passing the defending race winner Jimmie Johnson and opening up a stable lead before fans were treated to rare sight. Green flag pitstops on a short track.
The cycle of stops was barely complete, or rather, it wasn't complete, Scott Speed having found his way to fourth by the time John Andretti spun the yellow flag out once more.
Hamlin was then able to survive another clutch of short runs, the final 60 laps saw three more caution flags, seeing off the attentions of Johnson, to break his run of three consecutive wins in Martinsville’s Chase event.
Several times the leading pair looked set for a repeat of the Spring race at the track, when Johnson bumped Hamlin out of the way en route to victory, but it never came to that. Johnson told the post-race press conference “I wasn’t just going to come in with the second place car and take a cheap shot and pass him that way. If I felt like I had a car to win the race, I would have been up there leaning on him some.”
It was gentlemanly end to a race that occasionally threatened to turn ugly. The main protagonists, aside from David Stremme, were Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon. Montoya was predictably aggressive as he fought his way from starting 21st, trying to avenge his poor showing at Lowe's a week earlier.
Once the Colombian caught Gordon, he made it past him, frequently bumping and barging each other, Gordon feeling moved enough to vent his anger over his team radio in a manner atypical for Gordon's clean image. However, Gordon never got a chance to take any retribution and Montoya, perhaps down to the fact his brakes were worn after his early charge, never took the same action on Hamlin, or Johnson for the lead, instead settling for third and moving up a place in the points' standings though still 200 behind Johnson.
Johnson's closest challenger, Mark Martin, could only finish eighth, falling to 118 points behind the leader with only five races left. Jeff Gordon, who finished fourth a Martinsville is 150 points behind Johnson, with Tony Stewart an additional 42 in arrears.