Joe Gibbs Racing Relies on Hamlin at Martinsville

Denny Hamlin, a five-time Sprint Cup Series winner at Martinsville Speedway talks with teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth in the garage. Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates come to him for help anytime the series visits the half-mile racetrack.
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Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin knows a thing or two about getting around Martinsville Speedway. After all, he’s won five Sprint Cup Series races at the half-mile track, including last year’s STP 500.

While Hamlin expects to perform well at Martinsville, the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization has reaped the benefit of having him on their side for the last 11 years.

“I think Denny has really helped us there,” Team Owner Joe Gibbs said. “We really work hard and try to build on things, but when we got Denny, it really made a difference.”

Hamlin has worked with each one of his teammates on how to get around what is often referred to as one of the most challenging tracks in NASCAR.

“They all lean on me heavily at Martinsville in particular,” Hamlin said. “You can see guys like Matt who hadn’t had a whole lot of success there has really turned the page and outruns me most times.”

The Matt he referred to is 2003 Sprint Cup Series Champion Matt Kenseth. Since making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing from Roush-Fenway Racing four years ago, Kenseth has finished sixth or better in four of his six Martinsville starts.

“I think any sports team is about people,” he said. “I feel like we have great people there. It’s a great place for them to work, a great place to drive at and I hit it off with Denny right away.”

Carl Edwards, who like Kenseth spent the majority of his career with Roush-Fenway Racing before moving to Gibbs last year, took advantage of his new teammate right away.

“I’ve relied on Denny a lot for Martinsville,” he said. “Denny went out of his way last year to help me.”

However, perhaps no driver has enjoyed having Hamlin as a teammate at Martinsville more so than defending Sprint Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch.

“I knew Denny was always good at Martinsville, so I leaned on him a lot and still do today,” Busch said. “Each and every year I lean on him more and more, and try to pick his brain and learn things that he might know that I still don’t know yet and make sure I get all I can for Martinsville.”

Busch, who has six top-five finishes and one pole at Martinsville since moving to Gibbs wishes he had been able to lean on Hamlin since the beginning of his career.

“I wish I had Denny Hamlin as a teammate there when I was a rookie,” he said. “Obviously he’s really good there and teaches me an awful lot about the race track each year when we go back.”

Gibbs has witnessed first-hand the improvement in Busch’s Martinsville performance since working with Hamlin.

“The first couple of races he had there he was blowing out left front tires and everything going wrong,” Gibbs said. “I remember he would be in the middle of the race and Denny would go to pass him and he would say, ‘there goes my teammate, let me see how long I can follow him.’”

However, to say Martinsville came naturally to Hamlin isn’t exactly true. He had a lot of confidence heading into Martinsville for the first time in a Sprint Cup Car, back in 2005.

Hamlin had spent the previous few years turning laps at Martinsville in a Late Model Stock Car.

“I remember going to Martinsville my rookie year and thinking, I’ve got a lot of laps around this place, I’ll probably have it figured out,” he said. “But, I got in trouble early. I wasn’t very patient and I found myself in a wreck with Mark Martin of all people.”

That disappointment was short-lived. Hamlin would rebound to finish the race eighth, the first of his 16 top-10 finishes in 20 career Martinsville starts.

While Edwards, Kenseth and Busch are coming to Hamlin for help, he’s not afraid to ask questions of his teammates either.

“I still learn a little bit from them, as well,” he said.

Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates will return to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500 race weekend April 1-3.

The weekend starts with Virginia Lottery Pole Day on Friday and continues with the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday.

The STP 500 is on Sunday, April 3. Tickets start at $45.

Ticket prices increase the week of the race.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.

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