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Denny Hamlin's late charge saves Martinsville Monday 500 for crew chief Mike Ford | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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Denny Hamlin's late charge saves Martinsville Monday 500 for crew chief Mike Ford

  Whoops! How not to win a race: Lesson for Jeff Gordon (24) and Matt Kenseth (17), as Denny Hamlin slips by the two battlers in the final lap at Martinsville Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern


   Crew chief Mike Ford looked like the goat, after that four-tire pit call with only 10 laps to go in Monday's Martinsville Goody's 500.
   Giving up the lead, after dominating much of the four-hour race, leading 172 laps?
   Even J. D. Gibbs, the team manager, conceded afterwards that he wasn't very pleased with that call.
   But Denny Hamlin made Ford a winner, with a bullying charge to victory in a wild finish to the rain-postponed race.
   However, Hamlin needed a dust-up run-in between Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth in the final yards to pull it off.
   And whatever Gordon and Kenseth have had simmering the past few years apparently boiled to the surface once again in the final moments of Sunday's race, during a highly spirited battle for the lead – which both men lost.
   When Hamlin pitted, and gave up the lead and wound up eighth for the ensuing restart, the race looked like Gordon's. He'd led 92 laps, and he's won at this time half a dozen times.
   But Kenseth wasn't giving anything away. After all it's been more than a year since his last tour victory....
   The setting:
   After his surprising pit stop, Hamlin made a hard, quick sprint up to fourth in just four laps. Then teammate Kyle Busch brought out the final caution when he got crowded into the wall in a three-wide situation.
    And that set up the climactic overtime finish: Gordon and Ryan Newman side by side on the front row, with Kenseth and Hamlin right behind them for the two-lap sprint.
   Hamlin push Newman into the first turn, on the outside of Gordon. The inside here is the preferred line.
   Then, on the inside, Kenseth lightly bopped Gordon, who slid up the track a bit.
    Gordon, more than a bit miffed, came right back and pushed Kenseth out of the way on the backstretch.
   That opened the door for Hamlin, who made the move and never looked back.
   Kenseth and Gordon were hot at each other for those bumps. But Hamlin said that's just what drivers have to expect in a green-white-checkered finish.
   "Same deal with me and Jimmie last year – he tried to move me out of the way. When you're in the lead, you're at the mercy of the guy right behind you," Hamlin said.
   "When you're on old tires, it's like running ice. It's hard for me to blame Kenseth."
    While Gordon was critical of Kenseth, who wound up 18th, Kenseth said it was just how drivers have to race for the win.
    "I guess it looked like it was my fault," Kenseth conceded. "I did go in there, and I did get into Jeff a little bit -- really not that hard.
    "And I got under him...and everything was fine, and he just took a left as hard as he could take one and ran me down all the way into the marbles.
    "I got all the marbles on my rear tires, and I slowed up to try to get in the corner real slow, and I kind of got hit from behind....and I got hit in the side
and started wheel-hopping. 
     "I couldn't hang onto it when I got to (turn) three. 
     "It's nothing Jeff wouldn't have done, or hasn't done, to me.
     "It was just an aggressive race for the end. 
     "We were going to going to be side-by-side going into three and four...and the outside lane (where Gordon was running) has actually been an advantage anyway. So it wasn't going to be that big of a deal.
    "But instead, he decided to run me down as low as he could, because he knew I'd wreck when I got to the corner. 
    "That's the way it turned out. 
     "It was a dumb move on my part. I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville.
    "But I figured I'd go for the win....which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake."

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