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.
"It worked out for both of us, other than Denny Hamlin snuck through the middle of both of us and stole the win," he added. "But we'll take it!"
Hornaday still claimed second place, which was enough to boost him up to third place in the Truck Series championship, equal in points with Johnny Sauter who finished in fourth position. They are four points behind James Buescher in second place, who in turn is 11pts off the lead held by Dillon who finished just behind Hornaday at Martinsville.
Unlike their Cup counterparts, at least the Truck regulars got to spend some time on track on the Friday, during which Hornaday had topped the practice timesheets despite a spin that saw him collect team mate Nelson Piquet Jr.
"It was one of those things where I was trying to get a good lap in there, got in the gas and got loose," explained Hornaday about the accident, caused by pushing a little too hard on cold tyres on a cold track.
"Everything was white in front of me," said Piquet, who couldn't see through the tyre smoke from Hornaday's truck. "I just braked and was very slow, and suddenly I touched him." Both trucks were subsequently repaired and able to get back out on track, with Piquet finishing in 13th place in the race.Full race results
and qualifying and practice times available.