It's now or never for Denny Hamlin
Hamlin isn't thinking top-five at Martinsville. He's thinking win and won't be satisfied with anything less. He's the biggest threat to stop the amazing
Johnson and Hamlin have split the past four wins at Martinsville and they took their rivalry there to new level last year. Hamlin's FedEx Toyota led 296 laps last spring, but Johnson knocked him out of the way with 16 to go and beat him by a couple of car lengths. It stung Hamlin, who clearly didn't believe Johnson's assertion that the contact was unintentional.
In the fall, Hamlin ran down Johnson during a 136-lap green-flag run to take the lead with 139 to go and led the rest way with Johnson chasing him. There was drama at the end, with three restarts in the final 17 laps including a green-white-checkered. Double-file restarts helped and Hamlin didn't give the Lowe's Chevrolet a chance to get a bumper to him
"You actually feel a little bit better with him being on the outside of you than you do right behind you on a restart," Hamlin said.
Hamlin has finished sixth or better in his last seven starts at Martinsville. He's been outstanding on flat tracks since his first full Cup season in 2006. Of his eight victories, three were at Pocono, two at Martinsville, one at New Hampshire and one at Richmond.
Many pundits expected Hamlin to be Johnson's primary challenger for the Sprint Cup this year, based upon a career-high four wins including in the finale at Homestead-Miami. That one was a breakthrough because it's a 1.5-mile intermediate-banked track. There's plenty of time remaining to challenge Johnson, but Hamlin needs to start his turnaround at Martinsville. If not there, where?
"Denny (Hamlin) has been awfully strong there," Johnson said. "I know the 24 (
Hamlin is my pick to win on Sunday, but Gordon,
Here they are, in order of probability: