Hamlin and Gibbs group go to Martinsville as title favorites


All of the momentum is with Denny Hamlin headed to Martinsville Speedway for the opening race of the third spherical of NASCAR’s playoffs.

Hamlin, a five-time winner on the Virginia quick observe, needn’t look far for worthy challengers, together with two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.

JGR moved into the spherical of eight with three of its 4 drivers nonetheless racing for the Cup Sequence title and an affordable shot at advancing the trio into the season finale shootout subsequent month. Kyle Busch was the regular-season champion and holds a four-point lead over teammate Martin Truex Jr. within the standings earlier than Sunday’s race. Truex leads the collection with six wins, together with two within the first spherical of the playoffs.

Hamlin is third in factors and coming off his fifth win of the season, giving Gibbs and Toyota an incredible 1-2-Three assault for the title. It is solely becoming the Gibbs group is on this place — the group has received 16 of the 32 races up to now this season — however snagging three of the ultimate 4 spots within the Homestead-Miami Speedway title-deciding race can be a tough navigation contained in the group.

“Proper now, we have now superb chemistry,” Gibbs stated after Hamlin received at Kansas Speedway final Sunday. “It is not going to purchase us something subsequent week. I get so nervous. I used to be all enthusiastic about (Hamlin), then someone talked about subsequent week, and I virtually threw up. I stated ‘You imply this does not get us to Homestead?'”

No, the street to Homestead begins on the shortest observe on the circuit, a tough paper clip-shaped 0.526-mile oval. The center spherical is at Texas Motor Speedway after which the championship area of 4 is determined at ISM Raceway outdoors Phoenix.

Busch, a four-time winner this season however mired in a stretch of 18 races with out one, is prepared for this nail-biting spherical. He has simply two top-five finishes by way of the primary six playoff races and is keen to get again up entrance.

“I really feel prefer it’s our greatest spherical. We run effectively in any respect three of these locations and we have received just a few at Texas, we received Martinsville twice and Phoenix has been getting higher for us, too,” Busch stated. “We simply have to proceed to execute and do an excellent job and be sure that we thoughts our Ps and Qs.”

Truex has by no means received at Martinsville however his efficiency has picked up the final a number of years. He has completed eighth or higher the final 4 races, was runner-up to Busch in 2017 and third final October.

“We all know what we have to do,” Truex stated. “Now it is only a matter of going out and doing it. We have now been quick, ran up entrance and led laps in any respect of those tracks on this spherical.”

A win at Martinsville provides any group respiration room to concentrate on the Nov. 17 finale and never fear about incomes a slot within the closing 4. Joey Logano was a longshot to win the title final 12 months however received at Martinsville, then upset regular-season heavyweights Busch, Truex and Kevin Harvick three weeks later to say his first title.

Logano was practically eradicated from title competition every week in the past when he went to Kansas on the bubble, did not have a exceptional race after which was concerned in a late accident that put him head-to-head with Crew Penske teammate Brad Keselowski for the ultimate spot within the spherical of eight. Keselowski was eradicated, Logano saved his title protection rolling and now hopes Martinsville punches his ticket to Homestead.

The competitors can be fierce from Chase Elliott, who has been within the combine at Martinsville however nonetheless in search of his first win on the observe.

Harvick has had a quiet run up to now by way of the playoffs. He is had three top-five finishes, however hasn’t led laps within the final three races and felt his whole weekend at Kansas was the worst of the 12 months for his Stewart-Haas Racing group. Even when the group will get it corrected, Harvick famous: “Clearly we nonetheless must beat the Gibbs automobiles.”

Notes: The wild playing cards of this spherical are Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney, who each received for the primary time this season within the second spherical of the playoffs to advance. Larson loves Homestead and believes if he is a part of the ultimate 4, he can win the championship. Blaney is racing on further time following his victory at Talladega, however Larson is a real outdoors menace to steal the title for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I at all times stated if I can get to the ultimate 4, I’ve the most effective shot out of anyone,” Larson stated. “Texas can be our greatest likelihood to get a win. Martinsville is our worst likelihood, however we’ll give it our greatest shot.”


Extra AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports activities


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