"The biggest thing I would say with the Truck Series race at Martinsville is how the tires wear and how the track rubbers down"
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 22, 2013) - As an avid basketball fan and representative of the Jordan Brand, Denny Hamlin is very familiar with the term three-peat. Led by basketball icon Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls ruled the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 90's, putting together a pair of championship three-peats - winning the Association title three consecutive seasons from 1991 to 1993 and again from 1996 to 1998. Hamlin, who is the two-time defending winner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series October event at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, shoots for a three-peat of his own in Saturday's 15th annual Kroger 200. The Virginia native will once again 'jump' into the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which will be adorned by a brand new primary sponsor that will be revealed later this week, and take 'flight' for 200 laps around the .526-mile oval.
Last year, Hamlin had to work much harder to repeat as the race winner. Still in the heat of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series championship, Hamlin wanted to be ready to take to the track when final Cup Series practice began, which ran up against the end of Truck Series driver's meeting. So despite qualifying fifth, the veteran driver would be forced to come from the back of the field per NASCAR rules for missing the driver's meeting. Once inside the cockpit of his No. 51 Toyota Tundra, he methodically worked his way towards the front of the field and with six laps to go executed the perfect bump-and-run going into Turn 3. Once the home-state hero got out front, he clocked out over the final five laps and collected his sixth career NASCAR victory at the paperclip-shaped oval.
Hamlin, who won three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, is hoping that his No. 51 Tundra will be the first to cross the stripe when the checkered flag flies on Saturday and he can "Be Like Mike" and add a second three-peat to his resume.
Denny Hamlin, Driver of the No. 51 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 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. Each time you put a fresh set of tires on, you have to take care of your truck for the first five to 10 laps to try and make sure that you have something left at the end of a run. The last couple years I've been able to do that and we've been really good on the long runs. Doing that was a little bit more difficult last year since we had to start from the back, but in the end we were out front when it mattered most."
What kind of advantage can running the Truck Series race Saturday give you for Sunday's Cup Series race? "I think that running the Truck Series race provides you with a little bit of information that you can take over to the Cup car on Sunday. The biggest thing I would say with the Truck Series race at Martinsville is how the tires wear and how the track rubbers down. 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."
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 51 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra:
With the fall race being shorter, does pit strategy become more of a factor? "It all just depends on how the race plays out -- either one can have a difficult strategy. You know that you're going to have to pit twice, it just depends on how the tires fall off as to when you need to come. It seems like the tire wear is a little bit different each time we go there, so we'll have to see what it is like after practice on Friday. The other thing is you never know how the cautions are going to fall, so you have to be ready to change your strategy depending on how the race plays out."