MOORESVILLE, N.C. – In last year’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, home-state hero Denny Hamlin drove Kyle Busch Motorsports’ (KBM) No. 18 Tundra to his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory. With the monumental win, Hamlin became the 23rd driver in NASCAR history to win at least one race in each of its top three divisions in his career, and just the fourth to accomplish the feat in the same season.
The 32-year-old driver returns to ‘The Paperclip’ for this year’s 200-lap event, and although he is once again driving for KBM, he’ll be behind the wheel of the team’s second entry – the No. 51 Toyota Tundra – and he’ll have a different chassis – #134 – underneath him. Hamlin has finished in the top-five in each of his three starts for his Joe Gibb’s Racing teammate’s Truck Series team the last two seasons, including a fifth-place finish earlier this year in the Pocono Mountains 125 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
The best recipe for success at a short track is to start up front and stay out front, and that is exactly what Hamlin has been able to accomplish on a regular basis at Martinsville. He has started inside the top five in four of his five Truck Series starts and led 60 or more laps in each of his last three. The Virginia native has produced one Truck Series win and three top-10 finishes. He has started inside the top five in half of his 14 career starts in the Sprint Cup Series and has led 30 or more laps nine times. The four-time winner in NASCAR’s premier division has also captured two poles and collected nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
While the truck number and the faces surrounding the five-time winner at the .526-mile oval may be different this weekend, Hamlin’s goal remains the same – start up front, stay out front and end the day in victory lane.
Denny Hamlin, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Toyota Tundra:
What is the key to being successful in a Truck Series race at Martinsville? “You really have to manage your tires and take care of your equipment until the end of the race. Last year we were really good on the long runs. Each time we put tires on, I didn’t abuse my truck for the first five to 10 laps to try to make sure I had something at the end and that really paid off for us.”
What kind of advantage can running the Truck Series race Saturday give you for Sunday’s Cup Series race? “I think that I learned some things in last year’s Truck Series race — the track didn’t rubber in as good as I thought it would and a little bit about the transitions that it went through — that gave me a little bit more information to put towards running the Cup car on Sunday. When you run a Nationwide Series race, you typically have more of the Cup guys that are also running — Kyle (Busch), Joey (Logano), Brad (Keselowski) and Kasey (Kahne) usually run a lot of them — where in the Truck Series race I think that Kevin (Harvick) is the only other Cup guy racing Saturday. I’m sure that other guys — drivers and crew chiefs — will be paying close attention to the race and seeing what the track does and how tires wear, but I’ll be able to experience it firsthand and share what I learn with Darian (Grubb) Saturday night after the race.”
Rick Ren, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Toyota Tundra:
Denny won this race last year in KBM’s No. 18 Tundra, but he’ll be working with a different team and driving a different chassis this year. What are your expectations for this weekend? “We had a really good run with Brian Ickler in this same Tundra at Martinsville in 2010 and we have all of our notes from last year, so I’m really looking forward to this weekend. It’s hard to ask for a better race car driver at Martinsville than Denny Hamlin. I think it’s a win-win for both Denny and our team — I can’t imagine that he isn’t going to learn something in our race Saturday that he can put towards his Cup car for Sunday’s race.”
Denny Hamlin’s No. 51 Toyota Tundra:
Chassis 134: Chassis 134 will make its first start of 2012 in Saturday’s Kroger 200. The Tundra has a pair of top-three finishes over its three career starts for KBM, including a runner-up finish from owner-driver Kyle Busch in the 2010 AAA Insurance 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.