Martinsville, VA – Virginia-native Denny Hamlin won a truck race at Martinsville Speedway for the second year in a row by taking Saturday's Kroger 200.
Hamlin, a Sprint Cup Series regular, had to start from the rear of the field since he missed the drivers' meeting, which started just prior to final Cup practice earlier in the day. After making his way through the 36-truck field, Hamlin took the lead for the first time with six laps remaining when he bumped then leader Matt Crafton out of the way. He then crossed the finish line 1.9 seconds ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr.
It was Hamlin's second career win in trucks. Last year, he scored his maiden win in the series at this 0.526-mile racetrack, which is located roughly 170 miles southwest from his hometown of Chesterfield, Va.
"I love this place, and that's short-track racing at its finest," Hamlin said. "I gave the 88 (Crafton) extra room on the outside. I went into the second lane and didn't want to crowd him into one. I tried to pass him on the outside. He moved up into me and pushed me into the third groove. I got back into him. I didn't wreck him or anything like that. It's just contact at Martinsville, and I would expect the same from anybody else."
After the race concluded, Crafton approached Hamlin on pit road while Hamlin was still inside of his truck. The two had a discussion about their encounter on the track, but there was no altercation.
Hamlin drove the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Rick Ren served as his crew chief.
"I just got to thank everybody who's a part of this program, because I don't get race these (truck) races that often, so I got to take advantage of them when I can," Hamlin added.
Hamlin is one of the 12 drivers battling for this year's Sprint Cup championship. He enters Sunday's 500-lap race at Martinsville trailing leader Brad Keselowski by 20 points. Hamlin will start fifth in that race, the same position he qualified for the truck event.
While Hamlin took the checkered flag at Martinsville, James Buescher's sixth- place finish coupled with a disappointing 28th-place run for rookie Ty Dillon allowed Buescher to take a 21-point lead over Dillon. Just three races remain -- Texas (Nov. 2), Phoenix (Nov. 9) and Homestead (Nov. 16).
Buescher entered this 200-lap race only one point behind Dillon. It appeared during the first half of the event that his points deficit would be larger when he was running one lap behind in 28th while dealing with tire issues.
"The second half of practice we got better, and the second half of the race we turned it around too," Buescher said. "This team knows to never give up. We came from two laps down to win a race this year. Now, we came from a lap down to take the points lead."
On lap 151, Dillon brought out the fourth caution when he had a right-front tire go down and then made contact with the wall. He fell six laps off of the pace after making multiple pit stops to repair a damaged sway bar.
Piquet Jr. passed Joey Coulter for second on the penultimate lap. With less than 10 laps to go, Piquet, who is a former Formula One competitor, made contact with Brian Scott.
Angered by the incident, Scott, who drove the No. 18 Toyota for Kyle Busch's team, bumped into Piquet's Chevrolet several times on pit road after the race had ended.
"I only dived into the inside a few times," Piquet said. "I'm happy, and I think we did a good job. I improved myself, and I learned. Yeah, maybe I went over the line a few times, but it's a part of learning. I need to learn what the limits are in this NASCAR game. I'm not (ticked) at anybody, but I think the 18 (Scott) was little bit angry. I don't know what's his deal."
Coulter took the third spot, followed by Crafton and Scott Riggs. Timothy Peters, Ryan Blaney, Parker Kligerman and Scott completed the top-10.
Peters started on the pole and led the first 58 laps before Kevin Harvick, another Sprint Cup regular, moved ahead of him to take the top spot. Harvick led the most laps with 101 but suffered a flat left-rear tire late in the race, dropping him to 12th in the finishing order. He won the spring truck race here in March.