MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Denny Hamlin ducked under Matt Crafton with five laps to go and won the NASCAR Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on a day when the points lead was significantly jumbled with three races remaining.
The victory Saturday was Hamlin's second in the series, both on NASCAR's oldest track. It came after he missed the drivers' meeting because it conflicted with the final minutes of Sprint Cup practice, and had to start at the rear of the field.
The tricky layout proved more problematic for the championship contenders, and knocked Ty Dillon from the lead he has held since mid-September and seemed on his way to increasing. That was before Dillon, running sixth, cut a tire with 48 laps to go, spent significant time on pit road and finished 28th, and fell 21 points behind James Buescher.
Buescher, who started the day one point behind Dillon, seemed to be the one who was going to take a big hit for the first half of the race. His team struggled to get his truck working right, and at one point, he was running 28th himself. He also went a lap down, but got it back as the "lucky dog" on a restart, and rallied to finish sixth, good enough to take to lead.
Dillon is second, and pole-sitter Timothy Peters is third, 25 points back.
"The second half of practice we got better, and the second half of the race, we turned it around, too," said Buescher, the series leader with four victories this season. "This team knows never to give up. We came from two laps down to win a race this year, and came from a lap down to take the points lead."
The finish came on a seven-lap dash to the finish, and left many drivers unhappy. Crafton had harsh words for the way Hamlin passed him, and several drivers seemed less than amused with the aggressive approach of Nelson Piquet Jr.
The former Formula One driver made numerous passes not typically seen at Martinsville, and made them work for him, rallying to finish second. He was followed by Joey Coulter, Crafton and Scott Riggs. Peters finished seventh.
"Maybe this race I was a bit too aggressive," Piquet said, noting that he's still learning the stock car game.
Crafton sought Hamlin out in victory lane.
"I told him that it took a lot of man to run in the back of somebody," he said. "Not even try to pass me. Didn't even run behind me for one lap to see what he could do. Just ran in the back of me — that's all he did."
Hamlin laughed it off, joking that Crafton had come to tell him "he was really happy about finishing fourth."
The victory was Hamlin's sixth on the 0.526-mile oval, and he said Crafton had to know what was coming at the end. He said Crafton moved him out of the way first, and that he made his pass with no intention of causing Crafton to crash.
"When you're the leader with a few laps to go, especially at Martinsville, moving him up and out of the groove is standard protocol," Hamlin said.
The truck series will race the next three weekends, at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.