Seeking to claim his first Sprint Cup win on NASCAR’s shortest track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led this morning’s final practice at Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger with a lap of 19.415 seconds (97.533 miles per hour).
Earnhardt qualified 12th yesterday for Sunday’s race, but may have a pace quick enough to perhaps have a say in the outcome. Earlier, in the first practice session today, he was third-fastest behind Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
“Driver 88” is currently the “best of the rest” in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, albeit by a slim margin. He sits sixth in points (52 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, 18 behind fifth-place Jeff Gordon), but only holds a one-point edge on seventh-place Greg Biffle and a five-point edge on eighth-place Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer was second on the “Happy Hour” time sheets behind Earnhardt, posting a lap at 97.133 mph. Kasey Kahne was third in the session (97.068 mph), followed by Kyle Busch (97.038 mph) in fourth, and Matt Kenseth (97.033 mph) in fifth.
Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, currently holding a four-point lead over Kenseth with four races remaining in the season, was sixth-fastest (97.023 mph). Pole sitter Denny Hamlin was 17th in the session (96.489 mph).
On Monday, the Formula 1 schedule finally allowed teams to be in Europe before heading to Abu Dhabi for this weekend’s season finale.
And as such, that provided a window for now four-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton to return to the Mercedes AMG Petronas factories in Brackley and Brixworth to be celebrated for taking the driver’s title, as Hamilton an Valtteri Bottas delivered Mercedes its fourth straight constructor’s title.
Hamilton was at Brixworth, the home of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) and its highly successful Mercedes-Benz Power Units first before heading to Brackley, where he was welcomed with a “guard of honor” as the entire team came out to greet him.
The champion was overwhelmed at the response and the welcome.
“This a very emotional day. I was not expecting this, thanks everyone for the warm welcome,” he said. “Today is something that I will never forget, turning up at the front gate of the factory and seeing everyone out on the street to welcome me – I’m blown away.
“This has been an incredible year, it’s been an incredible journey together. There’s a huge amount of respect and appreciation I have for everyone. I’ve been in the sport for a long time now, but to see the work ethic in Brixworth and Brackley really inspires me. Every time I come around, I see everyone operating at 100%, which encourages me to bring my best performance.
“Thank you all for helping me achieve my dreams, it would not have been possible without you. This is the best championship year, because we’ve been fighting another team and because we’ve had the difficulties and challenges we’ve had – that just makes it so much greater.”
A social roundup of images and videos are below, all via Hamilton and the Mercedes team on social media.