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Denny Hamlin seeks new milestones at Martinsville

Jimmie Johnson explains how his time in quarantine helped him reinforce his decision to walk away from racing full time and is driving his desire to race in different series.

There’s something about Martinsville Speedway that brings out the best in Denny Hamlin.

Even though Hamlin considers Richmond Raceway his “home track,” it’s at Martinsville, nearly 200 miles southwest, that he’s enjoyed his greatest success on a single track in NASCAR.

And tonight, Hamlin seeks to move up yet another level at the famed .526-mile oval. Hamlin is going for his sixth career win at NASCAR’s oldest and still operating racetrack.

If Hamlin is able to take the checkered flag, it will mark the 40th win of his Cup career, tying him with Mark Martin for 19th on the Cup all-time wins list (he’s currently tied for 20th with Tim Flock and Matt Kenseth).

“It would be special to get (No. 40) there for sure,” Hamlin said in a media teleconference. “When we looked at all of the two-race week schedule, over the last few weeks, we really looked at the tracks and said that we should be able to win two or three of these, not easily, but easily.

“Obviously, Bristol slipped through us. We got the Darlington win, and I just feel like these tracks are really good for me. We’re good everywhere at this point. I don’t think we have any weaknesses at all, but Martinsville’s one that is special. ... Those big even number wins, the 40’s, the 50’s, if I can ever get there those are going to be special moments.

“Obviously, you take wins anywhere that you can get them, but if they can fall at a track that I cut my teeth at, it’d mean a little bit more.”

Hamlin also has five wins at Pocono, but he’s overwhelmingly dominated at Martinsville. In 28 prior starts, he also has 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes, meaning he’s finished outside the top 10 in just seven races.

In other words, he has made racing on a very tough track look easy much of the time.

“Well, it’s just the technicality of it, I think similar to a road course in how technical it is,” Hamlin said. “The road courses you have to really be good using the gas and the brake.

“Your braking points – the car gets very, very light on entry there with the back tires, especially as the tires wear out. You got to really be conscious of how your braking. Your acceleration has got to be really on point. You rush the throttle and you will burn up the tires.

“So, I think it’s a driver’s racetrack in that sense that you have to be smart. You’re going to get run into at some point of the day. You can’t let that escalate and throw you off mentally, and you go an retaliate and the next thing you know you’ve got a torn-up car. It’s just a racetrack that demands no mistakes and that’s what I like about it.”

As familiar as he is with and as successful he’s been at Martinsville, tonight’s race under the lights for the first time almost presents a new track feel, Hamlin said.

“Martinsville will be different in a lot of different ways,” Hamlin said. “They’re bringing a new tire to that racetrack, that could be as big as or a bigger change than any weather change that we are going to have from history.

“You look at the dates, it’s going to be way further in the year than we’ve raced at Martinsville, way hotter temperatures. It used to be with the old tires, we used to need for it to be 60 degrees outside temperature for the tire to lay rubber.

“I know they really worked hard in the Goodyear test to try to have a tire that laid rubber down, that had fall off, because we hadn’t had fall off, and the racing had kind of suffered the last few years when we had the big spoiler and no fall off. Just really, racing suffered at Martinsville.

“That’s a track that should never – we should never be talking about aerodynamics, so they worked really hard on it. Even though we are going from day to night, I don’t think it will be as much because it is still a concrete surface that is brighter in color.

“The lighter the color the less transition you’ll have from day to night anyway. I don’t think that will be as big as of a difference as the tire change and the actual temperature.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski