NASCAR Chase For The Cup: Hamlin Looks For A Surge At Martinsville

Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson each have a record of success at the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia and they both—especially Hamlin—need to marshal all the good things they’ve done in years past as they try and catch leader Brad Keselowski when the NASCAR Chase For The Cup resumes on Sunday afternoonwith the running of the Tums Fast Relief 500 (1 PM ET, ESPN).

There are four races left, and Hamlin is still 20 points behind leader Brad Keselowski. Barring something seismic, that puts him at least three weeks of finishing solidly ahead of the leader to pull even. Hamlin won both races held at this track in 2010, and one of two in both 2008 and 2009.

Johnson is in much better position, at seven points back, but that could potentially take two weeks to wipe out and JJ certainly can’t afford to fall any further behind. He won twice here in 2007, and joined Hamlin in winning one race at Martinsville in 2008-09.

My brother Bill normally provides TheSportsNotebook with insights on how the track functions, but he’s in Calgary. The story is he’s doing a long-haul trucking run to lead him out of cell-phone range. I actually think he’s up there trying to track down the Yeti, the snow-covered villain in an old Scooby-Doo episode. But I digress.

Martinsville had a race in the early spring, won by Ryan Newman, and what Bill told us then was that this was the shortest track on the circuit, creating a tight environment for racing. The consequences of this are that pole position is very significant, due to the difficulty in passing. And on a more mischievous level, it’s a “revenge track.” The close proximity of the drivers mean if you’ve got to an axe to grind, you can do some bumping and it’s tougher to detect.

It’s also tough to detect any way Hamlin can seriously close the gap on the leader without a significant dent in the points gap on Sunday. We’re already down to just three drivers with a shot at the Cup. It could be two by Sunday night in Martinsville.