NASCAR Sprint Cup: Hamlin looks for Toyota helpBy REID SPENCER
NASCAR Wire Service
October 28. 2017 9:40PM
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Denny Hamlin plans to win one of the next three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, all tracks that set up nicely for the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota.
But if Hamlin can't take a checkered flag at Martinsville (the site of today's First Data 500 at 3 p.m. on NBC Sports Network), Texas or Phoenix, he'll become a fan of fellow Toyota drivers Martin Truex Jr., the series leader, and JGR teammate Kyle Busch.
Why? It's simple math.
Under the stage-based racing format NASCAR introduced this season, Truex and Busch have earned the lion's share of playoff points. Consequently, they enter the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a built-in advantage. After the race last Sunday at Kansas, Truex has 4,069 points entering the round, and Busch is second with 4,042.
But if Truex and Busch both win and advance to the Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway on that basis, the race for the one position certain to be awarded on points is wide open. Only 20 points separate third-place Brad Keselowski from eighth-place Chase Elliott.
"You want the guys that have a point lead on you - the bigger point leads on you - to have good days and essentially win," said Hamlin, who is sixth in the standings, 12 points behind Keselowski. "Yeah, I definitely would be rooting for those guys if we don't win.
"I think that you know there's a good chance that there will probably be two spots given on points. We're behind the eight ball on that, so I think that we can make up a lot of points this weekend with stages and things like that. So, yeah, I think that most drivers in my position or even around me in points would probably be rooting for Truex to win if they don't win."
No room for Andretti
Another Andretti in NASCAR racing? It's not that far-fetched.
IndyCar legend Mario Andretti ran 14 races in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, winning the 1967 Daytona 500. John Andretti, Mario's nephew, competed in 393 Cup races, winning at Daytona and Martinsville.
Jeff Andretti, Mario's youngest son, tried his luck in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 1999, all ending as DNFs because of mechanical issues.
And on Saturday morning at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged discussing the possibility of providing a NASCAR Xfinity Series ride for Marco Andretti, Mario's grandson.
Only one problem: with four Chevrolets set to compete full-time for the Xfinity title next year - with drivers Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Tyler Reddick - Earnhardt doesn't have an "all-star car" to make occasional starts with a variety of drivers.
"We've got four teams and they are all full," Earnhardt said. "So it's probably not got any life, but we are friends and we've talked about it for two to three years. He has some interest in coming over and running some road courses and so does (Graham) Rahal and a bunch of other guys.
"If I had a field full of race cars, we would have a blast, all our buddies racing, but it's just hard to do. We're really thankful to be in the position we are in to have four full cars racing for a championship. As fun as the all-star idea and car is, and as many races as we won with (Kevin) Harvick, the real goal is to have a team running for the championship."
Though he's leaving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at the end of the season, Earnhardt is committed contractually to run at least one Xfinity Series race next season at a track still to be determined.
When that happens, he'll have to field a fifth car, but that situation likely won't be available to other drivers, even if their names are Andretti or Rahal.
"If we did have those opportunities, we certainly would entertain it, and I think it would be great for the sport to have an Andretti out there running in stock car," Earnhardt said. "No matter where it is at, it would be awesome."
Blaney's uphill battle
Last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Ryan Blaney advanced to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' Round of 8 with a third-place finish bolstered by 10 points accumulated during the first two stages of the Hollywood Casino 400.
But Blaney isn't willing to say he and the No. 21 Wood Brothers racing team have overachieved this season. Blaney and team owners Eddie Wood and Len Wood prefer to view their Playoff run as peaking at the right time.
Nevertheless, Blaney faces an uphill battle in the Round of 8, which opens with today's First Data 500 at Martinsville. With four spots available at Homestead, Blaney is seventh in the standings, eight points out of fourth. But he comes to a Martinsville track close to his childhood home in High Point, North Carolina, and even closer to the Wood Brothers' traditional home in Stuart, Va.
"Coming here has always been pretty special for me, growing up in High Point - not too far down the road - and I came to pretty much every race here my dad (Dave Blaney) was running, so it's been really special now to be able to run it the past few years with the Wood Brothers," Blaney said.
"It's been even more special with them being in Stuart, just about a half-hour down the road, so it's really important for us to try to run well here. We haven't run the best here in the past. I thought we made really good gains here in the spring race the first half of the race, and then the second half didn't go very well for us, so hopefully we can change that up, especially in the spot we're in being in the Round of 8, which is really special to be able to get into this round.
"This team deserves to be in it. They work their tails off to be up here, so hopefully we can kick this round off well at a race track that's very special to both of us."