Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hamlin earns Sprint Cup pole at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Denny Hamlin thinks he might have come back too soon from an injury — and he's glad he did.

The Joe Gibbs Racing star missed four races after sustaining a compression fracture of a vertebra in his lower back in a last-lap accident March 24 at California. The perennial title contender rushed back hoping to defy the odds and make NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.

But after second- and fourth-place finishes in his second and third starts, Hamlin backslid. He didn't make the Chase, and has struggled mightily.

Might it have been better to give up on the year when he got hurt and focus on his health?

"Maybe," he said Friday at Martinsville Speedway, where he earned the pole for Sunday's Goody's 500 and broke the track record with a lap of 99.595 mph. "(But) the struggles that we're having now will define us later down the road. If we would have just gotten hurt, sat out, got healthy and came back next season, I'm not sure I would have been as mentally tough as I am now."

The Virginia driver, born in Brandon, is 24th in points with one top-10 finish in his past 18 races. But he learned he's not always going to be great.

"That was kind of the fault I had in 2010 in the championship (when he finished second) and even previous years," he said. "One bad race and I would just kind of freak out and it would linger on and on and one with me for weeks."

Sprint Cup standings leader Jimmie Johnson (99.344) qualified second for Sunday as 18 drivers broke his track qualifying record of 98.4 mph, set in June.

Hamlin also earned the pole for today's Kroger 200 truck series race at Martinsville with a lap of 96.489 mph.

Junior deal: The Army National Guard extended its sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr. through 2014.

NHRA: Courtney Force, daughter of 15-time series champ John, had the best first-day qualifying run in Funny Car at the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Adam Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led.

Hamlin earns Sprint Cup pole at Martinsville 10/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 25, 2013 9:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ryan Callahan encouraged by his return


    Captain Steven Stamkos wasn't the only key Lightning player to make a triumphant return Friday night against Nashville.

  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Friday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb hates to hear how he "battled through" or "grinded out" a start rather than just dominated, but that's kind of what he did Friday, allowing nine hits and a walk and being charged with two wild pitches but only three runs in earning his 12th win.

  3. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  4. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  5. Ww's Odessabeach makes run at Husker Magic stakes final


    ST. PETERSBURG — When Hurricane Irma blew through Florida earlier this month, Ww's Odessabeach remained in her comfort zone.