Hamlin, Johnson strive to get back on track at MartinsvilleKing of trucks is back
By: NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
The two most dominant drivers in recent memory at Martinsville Speedway are still smarting from last season’s uncharacteristic Victory Lane shutout. If the 2011 blanking has made Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson even more motivated, the rest of the field could be in trouble.
Hamlin and Johnson will get their chance to scratch the win column again when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its first stop of the year at its shortest track for the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 (FOX, noon).
The two drivers combined to win every event in a nine-race span from 2006 to 2010 at Martinsville; Johnson won five, Hamlin four. That changed last season.
Kevin Harvick won this race last April as both Hamlin and Johnson finished just outside the top 10. Both rebounded for top-five finishes at Martinsville in the fall, but victory narrowly eluded Johnson when Tony Stewart bypassed him for a statement-making win on the way to his third title.
“I certainly want to get back to my winning ways there,” Johnson said. “But at a minimum, we always end up with a real strong finish. When I think of how close we were to victory last fall . . . it didn’t happen, but we led a lot of laps and was a factor in the end.”
For Johnson, there’s extra motivation for a milestone victory. The next win by Hendrick Motorsports — winless so far in 2012 — will be the team’s 200th.
For Hamlin, an extra edge may come in the form of Darian Grubb, who manned the pit box for Stewart’s Martinsville win last October. The new driver-crew chief combination has already produced one victory for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team this season, lifting Hamlin to seventh in the Sprint Cup standings.
Hamlin hasn’t lacked for confidence at many points in his career, but exuded it with a bold Tuesday tweet: “If you are wondering who to pick in fantasy this weekend . . . choose 11.”
King of trucks is back
John King has been living like royalty for five weeks now. That’s how long it’s been since his surprise victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
The truck tour resumes Saturday (SPEED, noon) with the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway, the second race of the young season.
For King, it’s been a longer wait than most. On the heels of his Daytona win, he was eager to get back on the track the following Monday. Despite King’s extra anticipation, the time off did have a nice side benefit.
“It’s pretty cool the be the points leader for five weeks,” said King, who will turn 24 the day after Saturday’s race. “For five weeks, I’ve turned on SPEED and watched ‘Race Hub’ and seen my name scroll across the bottom of the screen — pretty wild.”
King finished 19th in his only truck start at Martinsville, in 2010, but has competed at the .526-mile track in Late Model competition. He says he’ll lean heavily on the experience of Red Horse Racing teammate Timothy Peters, a former Martinsville winner and resident of nearby Danville, Va.
“He’s in a sense, almost a short-track king,” King said. “I’ve picked his brain a lot already and I’m going to pick it a lot more, too, this week.”
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule and standings
Feb. 18 — x-Budweiser Shootout, Daytona Beach, Fla. (Kyle Busch)
Feb. 23 — x-Gatorade Duel 1, Daytona Beach, Fla. (Tony Stewart)
Feb. 23 — x-Gatorade Duel 2, Daytona Beach, Fla. (Matt Kenseth)
Feb. 26 — Daytona 500, Daytona Beach, Fla. (Matt Kenseth)
March 4 — Subway Fresh Fit 500, Avondale, Ariz. (Denny Hamlin)
March 11 — Kobalt Tools 400, Las Vegas (Tony Stewart)
March 18 — Food City 500, Bristol, Tenn. (Brad Keselowski)
March 25 — Auto Club 400, Fontana, Calif. (Tony Stewart)
April 1 — Goody's Fast Relief 500, Ridgeway, Va.
April 14 — Samsung Mobile 500, Fort Worth, Texas
April 22 — STP 400, Kansas City, Kan.
April 28 — Richmond 400, Richmond, Va.
May 6 — Aaron's 499, Talladega, Ala.
May 12 — Southern 500, Darlington, S.C.
May 19 — x-Sprint Showdown, Concord, N.C.
May 19 — x-Sprint All-Star, Concord, N.C.
May 27 — Coca-Cola 600, Concord, N.C.
June 3 — Dover 400, Dover, Del.
June 10 — Pocono 400, Long Pond, Pa.
June 17 — Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400, Brooklyn, Mich.
June 24 — Toyota/Save Mart 350, Sonoma, Calif.
June 30 — Quaker State 400, Sparta, Ky.
July 7 — Coke Zero 400, Daytona Beach, Fla.
July 15 — Lenox Industrial Tools 301, Loudon, N.H.
July 29 — "Your Hero's Name Here" 400 at the Brickyard, Indianapolis
Aug. 5 — Pennsylvania 400, Long Pond, Pa.
Aug. 12 — NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at The Glen, Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Aug. 19 — Pure Michigan 400, Brooklyn, Mich.
Aug. 25 — Irwin Tools Night Race, Bristol, Tenn.
Sept. 2 — AdvoCare 500, Hampton, Ga.
Sept. 8 — Wonderful Pistachios 400, Richmond, Va.
Sept. 16 — Geico 400, Joliet, Ill.
Sept. 23 — Sylvania 300, Loudon, N.H.
Sept. 30 — AAA 400, Dover, Del.
Oct. 7 — Good Sam Club 500, Talladega, Ala.
Oct. 13 — Bank of America 500, Concord, N.C.
Oct. 21 — Hollywood Casino 400, Kansas City, Kan.
Oct. 28 — Tums Fast Relief 500, Ridgeway, Va.
Nov. 4 — AAA Texas 500, Fort Worth, Texas
Nov. 11 — Kobalt Tools 500, Avondale, Ariz.
Nov. 18 — Ford 400, Homestead, Fla.
1. Greg Biffle, 195; 2. Kevin Harvick, 188; 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 178; 4. Tony Stewart, 177; 5. Martin Truex Jr., 175; 6. Matt Kenseth, 173; 7. Denny Hamlin, 171; 8. Clint Bowyer, 157; 9. Jimmie Johnson, 156; 10. Ryan Newman, 155; 11. Paul Menard, 148; 12. Carl Edwards, 146; (tie) Joey Logano, 146; 14. Kyle Busch, 143; 15. Jeff Burton, 142; 16. Brad Keselowski, 139; 17. Mark Martin, 129; 18. Juan Pablo Montoya, 123; 19. Regan Smith, 118; 20. Bobby Labonte, 108.