Could Denny Hamlin play the spoiler at Martinsville?

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It has been a chaotic season for Denny Hamlin, who missed four races earlier this season with a back injury sustained at Auto Club Speedway and has only collected one Top-10 finish in the last 18 events.

But this weekend’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger at Martinsville Speedway may present a great opportunity for the beleaguered Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

With four victories there in his Sprint Cup career – the most recent of which came in the fall of 2010 – as well as nine Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes, Hamlin is coming to one of his best tracks.

A fifth Martinsville win for Hamlin would make history on several fronts. It would mark the first time that a driver outside the Chase for the Sprint Cup has won a post-season event at the track, and it would also mark the first time that non-Chase competitors have won on three consecutive post-season weekends (Brad Keselowski, two races ago at Charlotte; Jamie McMurray on Sunday at Talladega).

But more importantly, a Hamlin triumph would rob Chase leader Jimmie Johnson of at least some precious points he needs to stay ahead of Hamlin’s teammate, Matt Kenseth, who sits four points behind going into a track that hasn’t been an especially good one for him (no wins, three Top-5s in 27 starts).

As noted by Micah Roberts of The Sporting News, Kenseth may have to focus on keeping his deficit to Johnson manageable if Johnson is his usual Martinsville self (eight career wins, average finish of 5.3) – and Hamlin could lend him a hand if he’s given a No. 11 JGR Toyota that can contend.

It may be asking too much of Hamlin and the No. 11 team, who have likely been racing with one eye toward 2014 for some time now. But based on their past body of work at Martinsville, a surprise from them this weekend is by no means a far-fetched prospect.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.