BUSCH: Denny Hamlin - Martinsville Speedway spotlight

SUBWAY 500 At Martinsville Like Homecoming For Denny Hamlin MARTINSVILLE, VA (October 15, 2005) - A year ago Denny Hamlin was sitting on the outside pole for the Bailey's 300 Late Model Stock race at Martinsville Speedway, wondering what the ...

SUBWAY 500 At Martinsville Like Homecoming For Denny Hamlin

MARTINSVILLE, VA (October 15, 2005) - A year ago Denny Hamlin was sitting on the outside pole for the Bailey's 300 Late Model Stock race at Martinsville Speedway, wondering what the future held.

Pardon the cliche, but what a difference a year makes.

In just over 365 days Hamlin has gone from Late Model Stock star to Busch Grand National championship contender and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie.

Life has gone full circle in the past year for the 25-year-old Chesterfield, VA, resident. Next Sunday he will be sitting on the starting grid at Martinsville Speedway, this time for the SUBWAY 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race.

"A lot has happened to me in a short time," Hamlin said while practicing his FedEx-sponsored Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy at Martinsville last week. "Just one year ago I was racing in the Late Model race here at Martinsville. That's all I had going on at the time.

"So being in the Cup series so soon is a dream come true. Joe Gibbs has given me all the right equipment to do it with. They have definitely taken a chance on somebody that doesn't have a proven track record in the Busch Series or the Truck Series. I'm just looking forward to making the best out of next week here."

Hamlin was signed to Joe Gibbs Racing's developmental program late last year and he hasn't disappointed anyone in his rookie season on the Busch circuit. He's fifth in the series points' standings with just a few races remaining. And had it not been for an unusual crop of rookies, he would be a shoo-in for rookie of the year. But amazingly, two rookies, Carl Edwards and Reed Sorensen, sit ahead of him in the points chase.

Edwards and Sorensen have gotten most of the rookie ink, and that's fine with Hamlin. He doesn't mind flying under the media radar.

"I feel like we're kind of the Jeremy Mayfield of the Busch Series. We're really solid. We're not setting the track on fire, but we're there every week," said Hamlin, who has notched nine top-10 finishes this season. "We're finishing, we've got limited dnfs (did not finish) and we're top five in points, not too far out of fourth. If we get some solid finishes down the stretch, we might be able to climb up to fourth. That would be great for my rookie year, to finish top five in Busch Series points."

Hamlin got his NEXTEL Cup break when Gibbs released driver Jason Leffler midway through the season. Gibbs made the decision to give a couple of his young developmental drivers, Hamlin and J.J. Yeley, some wheel time in the FedEx Chevy, along with veteran Terry Labonte.

Hamlin made his debut last week in Kansas and qualified the car a season-best seventh. A cut tire cost him two laps in the pits and he wound up 32nd.

"We qualified seventh at Kansas and were on a pole run there for a while," Hamlin said of his Cup coming out in Kansas. "We definitely had a good car, a top 10 or top 15 car. We just had bad luck and cut a tire down under green and lost two laps. We could never make those laps up, but we never lost a lap on the race track. I'll just take that experience on to the next track."

Hamlin made his second career Cup start at Lowes Motor Speedway Saturday night and will make a return to Martinsville Speedway for the SUBWAY 500 next Sunday.

He certainly knows how to get around Martinsville's testy .526-mile oval. In five Late Model starts here, he had three top-five finishes and never finished out of the top 15. He won the Bailey's 300 pole one year, started second another and finished third in the race in 2004.

Can that experience be transferred to a Cup car? He thinks so, even though his Martinsville practice session was just the fourth time he had ever driven a NEXTEL Cup car.

"It all works the same. The very first lap, I drove it just like I did the Late Model here, exactly the same," said Hamlin during a break in his Martinsville test. "You try to get off the brake as much as you can to help roll speeds in the middle of the corner. I really think my experience will help here. We're real competitive right now. We're right around a 10th place car (in qualifying) if we were to come back the same and we're going to work on that top five."

Tickets for both the SUBWAY 500 on Sunday, October 23, and the Kroger 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, on Saturday, October 22, are on sale and can be purchased by calling 1.877.RACE.TIX. SUBWAY 500 tickets may also be purchased online at www.racetickets.com. For race information, please visit www.martinsvillespeedway.com.

Ticket prices for the SUBWAY 500 range from $40 to $75. Tickets for the Kroger 200 are $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event. Kroger 200 tickets for children ages 6 to 12 are $5.

-Martinsville Speedway

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About this article
Drivers Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Jason Leffler , J.J. Yeley , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing