Trucks: Hamlin barges into Martinsville win
28 October 2012
Cup regular Denny Hamlin has only made 15 starts in the Camping World Truck Series over the years, but on Saturday afternoon he claimed his second series race win with victory in the Kroger 200 event at Martinsville Speedway, a hard-fought race which ended with more than one lingering grudge.
Hamlin had started the race from the back of the grid as a result of missing the drivers' meeting while attending to his Cup duties, while Timothy Peters had started from pole position alongside Kevin Harvick, and duly led for the first 58 laps.
That included two of the seven caution periods of the afternoon: the first was on lap 19 for Todd Bodine in turn 2, and the second came on lap 29 shortly after the restart when Jeff Agnew spun in turn 1 and caught out David Starr in the process. In both cases the cars involved sustained little damage and were able to continue.
Peters' run at the front came to an end when Harvick finally decided to take charge of proceedings for the first time on lap 59, and the #2 would quickly prove itself to be the dominant car of the race as it went on to lead a total of 101 of the 200 laps in three blocks separated out by single lap interlopers during pit stops cycles under yellow flag conditions.
The first of these was for an accident involving Tim George Jr. in turn 4 on lap 93, but the next caution on lap 151 had more serious consequences for the Truck Series championship when points leader Ty Dillon blew a tyre in turn 2 and hit the wall. Dillon fell six laps off the lead while getting the car patched up, and as a result ended up finishing in 28th place - a major hit in the Truck title battle.
Harvick led the field to the green flag for the restart on lap 160, but he was no match for Matt Crafton at the restart, with Denny Hamlin following him through into second place ahead of Joey Coulter, Nelson Piquet Jr. and James Buescher, who had battled back after going a lap down in the early stages of the race.
Crafton retained the lead through three more caution periods: a turn 1 accident for Jason White and Clay Greenfield on lap 164; a spin by Peyton Sellers at the same spot on lap 175; and a final turn 1 incident, this time for Miguel Paludo, on lap 187 which set up a final restart of the day with seven laps remaining to the chequered flag.
That gave Hamlin his best shot of the race at taking the lead from Crafton, and he did it old style - by bulldozing him to one side, a move that Crafton did not take kindly to.
"Running in the back of somebody, that doesn't take anything. Anybody can do that," he complained after the race when he sought out Hamlin for an animated discussion on the incident. "I told him that it took a lot of man to run in the back of somebody," he said. "Not even try to pass me. Didn't even run behind me for one lap to see what he could do. Just ran in the back of me -- that's all he did."
Crafton was willing to concede that he'd made a tactical mistake which had left him vulnerable to Hamlin's move, however. "I didn't let the tyres come up quite clean enough on the last restart, I do admit that. That's part of it. I didn't get my tyres cleaned up, but I did not run into the back of him."
Hamlin brushed off criticism of the move that had given him the lead and which ultimately delivered the race win just a few minutes later.
"When you're the leader with a few laps to go, you've got to expect it," he said. "You can't wreck the guy, that's off-limits: but moving him off and out of the groove, that's standard protocol at this type of race track."
Hamlin wasn't the only driver to attack the ire of some of his peers, with Nelson Piquet Jr.'s creative approach to overtaking during the race also attracting criticism - while proving almost as successful in terms of race performance, as he pushed through to finish in second place two seconds back from Hamlin.
"Maybe this race I was a bit too aggressive," said Piquet afterwards, admitting that ovals were still a largely undiscovered country for him and the cramped half-mile tracks like Martinsville a particularly new skillset he was still working on fully acquiring.
Joey Coulter managed to get ahead of Matt Crafton before the finish line, with Scott Riggs coming home in fifth. In terms of the Truck Series championship, the crucial result was James Buescher claiming sixth place ahead of Timothy Peters: combined with Ty Dillon's earlier tyre blow-out, that resets the title battle in a major fashion.
Buescher takes over at the top of the championship and now leads Dillon by 21pts, while Peters closes to within 4pts of Dillon with just three races at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami remaining in the 2012 season.
"The second half of practice we got better, and the second half of the race, we turned it around, too," said Buescher, who had needed the lucky dog in the mid-race third caution of the afternoon to get back onto the lead lap.
"When we were a lap down, I did have all the faith in the world that we could turn it around and come back for a top-10 finish," he insisted. "I knew that we just needed some adjustments. We hadn't stopped yet. We were still on the initial run, and I knew that we could get the back end in the track better.
"We were really loose and just needed to come to pit road for an adjustment and hit reset," he added, giving the credit to his crew chief Michael Shelton and the rest of the #31 personnel for all their work getting the truck back into shape when it was needed. "This team knows never to give up. We came from two laps down to win a race this year, and came from a lap down to take the points lead."