MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Who provides Denny Hamlin his most formidable competition at Martinsville?
No, it's not Jimmie Johnson, who has won eight times at the fabled short track. And it's not Joey Logano, who will be on the pole for the third straight Martinsville Sprint Cup race in today's STP 500.
Denny Hamlin's stiffest competition at the 0.526-mile speedway is:
"Myself," he said.
"I don't know how many pit road penalties I've had here at this race track, or why I choose to push it on pit road knowing that I have the speed on the race track that we've shown," Hamlin said Friday.
He will try to be more cautious on pit road today because he feels he can't afford another penalty. He starts eighth, next to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch; they were the top two Toyotas in Friday's qualifying.
"You can't if you're going to win, especially the bonehead things that I've done," he said. "I've had my penalties in the race where, what does it really matter on Lap 80 if you gain a spot on pit road, since you have so many more laps?"
"Luckily, most of my penalties have been early in the race, but still it takes its toll on the car to have to come through the pack multiple times."
Hamlin, who was born in Tampa but has spent most of his life in Virginia, has five Cup victories on NASCAR's oldest and smallest oval. With Jeff Gordon (nine Martinsville wins including his 93rd and final Sprint Cup victory in November) now retired, Johnson and Hamlin are 1-2 among active drivers in Martinsville victories.
Changing times: If anyone should know how much racing at Martinsville has changed over the years, the man with all the answers is the King. Richard Petty, NASCAR's unparalleled master of short-track racing, accumulated the most wins (15), most top fives (30) and most top 10s (37) there.
But in Petty's day, success at "The Paper Clip" was as much about getting to the end as racing at the end.
"It used to be that we had all kinds of brake problems and rear end problems and all that, and half of the cars fell out of the race," Petty said Saturday. "Now they start the race, and if they don't crash, nobody has a problem.
"The cars are so much better as far as being able to run a whole race. It used to be survival, but now they race each other. Even though we raced each other then, a lot of us didn't survive. … For the long part of the deal, it makes a better race out of it because you've got more cars running at the end of the race racing against each other."