Denny Hamlin claimed his first victory in 12 starts in the NASCAR
Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 on Saturday afternoon, using fresher tyres to hold off Ron Hornaday to the chequered flag by 1.2s on the half-mile paperclip oval.
"The Truck Series is more competitive now than what it's ever been, and it means a lot to myself to win a Truck Series race, especially running just one a year," said Hamlin in victory lane. "It's a big deal for me, more than what people probably think."
Hamlin's victory means that he is one of 23 drivers to have won a race in each of NASCAR's top three series. He's the seventh Truck Series driver to have his maiden win at Martinsville - more than any other track - and coincidentally also delivered the first win at the circuit for Kyle Busch Motorsports when he crossed the finish line in the #18.
Earlier, Matt Crafton had claimed pole position and Hornaday joined him on the front row for the start of the race, after NASCAR
managed to squeeze the qualifying session into a rain-affected Saturday schedule. Hamlin and Johnny Sauter had lined up on the second row of the grid.
Crafton then led the first 11 laps of the race, and then the remainder of the first two thirds of the 200 lap race were dominated by long stints in the lead by Sauter (34 laps), Hornaday (29 laps) and Hamlin (53 laps), which saw five of the race's nine caution - an accident put Ricky Carmichael out of the race on lap 39, Cole Whitt and Nelson Piquet Jr. had separate spins on lap 50, Matt Lofton had a spin on lap 87, and Justin Lofton and Max Gresham on lap 105 before a debris caution lap 115.
After a sixth caution for an accident on the backstretch on lap 132 between Germain Racing teammates Todd Bodine and Max Papis, Austin Dillon took the lead for the next 43 laps save for a single lap when Hornaday nipped in front at a restart on lap 178 following a spin for Ryan Sieg in turn 2.
Denny Hamlin had been running behind Dillon and Hornaday on fresher tyres than the leader after pitting on lap 134, and he got another chance to make a run on them after an accident in turn 4 for Johanna Long and Tyler Tanner: Dillon got loose at the green flag and drifted up into Hornaday, giving Hamlin the chance he needed to take to the front and then pull away for the win.
"Just couldn't make the first turn and ran into Ron," said Dillon, admitting that he'd handed the victory to Hamlin in the process. "If I could have made it through the first turn, it would have been me [or] Ron in Victory Lane, I'm pretty sure."
Hornaday didn't blame Dillon - in fact, he'd been expecting the Richard Childress Racing driver to slide up. "The lap before the [penultimate] restart, I cleaned my tires off pretty good, and I still shoved my nose pretty good," he said. "When I saw Austin not weaving his truck as much as I did on the [previous] restart, I knew he was coming up into me.