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NASCAR Cup Series

Hamlin and Truex Face Similar Yet Different Situations


(Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

RIDGEWAY, Va. — If you glance at the NASCAR Cup Series standings, you’ll find Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. each 17 points below the cutline.

But that number tells two completely different stories.

Hamlin’s been one of the dominant cars throughout the playoffs, winning at Bristol Motor Speedway and finishing fifth or better four times. He’s won three times in total, adding victories at Kansas Speedway and Pocono Raceway in the regular season. Hamlin’s had an outlier race in each round of the playoffs, finishing 25th at Darlington in the opener and wrecking at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

However, the latest outlier came a week ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A steering issue led to a crash and an early exit, resulting in a 30th-place result.

Heading into Martinsville Speedway, Hamlin is by no means in a must-win position ahead of the Round of 8 finale. Under the circumstances, however, he basically views Sunday as one.

“The ball is in our court,” Hamlin said Saturday at Martinsville. “We can decide our own fate if we just win the race. I wish it was that easy. I wish it was just based off of speed, and things like that, but there are a lot of other factors, but certainly, I can’t think of a better race track that fits me and my style and my team.

“Our goal, every year, is to make the final four. We want to win a championship, but you have to win a race to do that. You’ve got to have a good series of events happen through the first 26, and really these three race seasons, we have leading up to it. It is tough. I certainly know a championship will not change how I view my career and what I’ve accomplished.”

On the other hand, the playoffs have been a complete and utter struggle for Truex and the No. 19 team. Through eight races, Truex has finished better than 17th just once, which came two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (ninth). The downhill spiral for the regular-season champion started after he finished sixth in the penultimate regular-season race at Watkins Glen International. He finished 24th at Daytona International Speedway and 18th in the playoff opener. A week later, he crashed after four laps at Kansas Speedway because of a tire failure.

Last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the latest example of untimely luck. Truex fell a lap down when a caution for Kyle Larson came out during a late pit sequence. He got his lap back by taking the wave around and seemed poised to rebound but blew an engine.

It’s seemed like Murphy’s Law for the 43-year-old from Mayetta, New Jersey. He made the Round of 12 by just five points and the Round of 8 by 12.

(Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

“It’s been really tough and nothing has really gone right,” Truex said. “I thought we were sitting in a really good position last week. Things were going pretty well, and then we pit and the bottom falls out. Lose [a lap], we get them back, get back on the lead lap and then the thing blows up. It’s been an uphill battle.

“We’ve been living on the edge that’s for sure. We barely made it through the first two rounds, so that’s been tough for sure … we really haven’t had much to be excited about other than the guys preparing fast cars to bring to the track the last few weeks. We will reset. We are ready to go again. This is a new week and a new opportunity, and we’ve been in this position before.”

Both drivers have a proven record at the 0.526 paperclip-shaped oval. At a track that he deems one of his best, Hamlin has five victories in 35 starts. Truex has three wins in as many starts — all of which have come since 2019.

In this crucial playoff race, Hamlin and Truex will each have prime starting positions. Hamlin qualified fourth while Truex snagged the pole.

Winning the pole is just a part of the roller coaster, Truex said.

“Just kind of par for the course here lately, so just trying to keep your head on straight and go out and do your job,” he said. “That’s how I came in here thinking about doing, and it went the way we hoped it would, so thanks to the guys for bringing a fast Auto-Owners Camry. First pit stall is a huge deal here, so hopefully we can use it to our advantage tomorrow.”

Sunday’s Xfinity 500 is set for 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Christopher Bell, who won last week at Homestead, is the defending winner. Kyle Larson won in the spring.

Nathan Solomon serves as the managing editor of The Podium Finish. He has been part of the team since 2021 and is accredited by the National Motorsports Press Association. Solomon is a senior in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. Contact him at

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