After promising victory, Denny Hamlin has tough day at Martinsville

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On Friday, the beleaguered Denny Hamlin promised that he was going to add another Martinsville grandfather clock to his trophy case.

But in Sunday’s STP 500 at NASCAR’s oldest track, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was never a factor.

Hamlin, a four-time winner at Martinsville, struggled with ignition issues and on long green-flag runs all day. He finished 19th at the checkered flag – far from what he’d been hoping for.

Also not helping Hamlin and his No. 11 team was the lack of practice time this weekend. All of Saturday’s sessions were rained out at Martinsville, including two Sprint Cup practices.

“Setup-wise, we really could have used Saturday,” he said after the race. “[I was] thinking that as fast as we were on Friday that it probably would play into our advantage not having practice on Saturday, but there was a laundry list of things that we needed to try and didn’t get to do it.

“Obviously, this car and the setup that we had was really good for 10 laps, but it just goes away too much after that. We have to get to work, have to do some testing – it’s the only thing you can do to get better.”

Hamlin missed the previous week’s race at Fontana after struggling with vision problems that were caused by a piece of metal that was in his eye. After getting it removed, he qualified on the front row alongside pole sitter Kyle Busch on Friday.

Staying toward the front in the first quarter of the race, Hamlin started to fall back thanks to the aforementioned ignition problems (which he said occurred primarily in the turns).

He would return to the Top 10 by Lap 300 after the problems appeared to sort themselves out. But after hovering around the Top 10-15 going into the final 100 laps, he fell back again as a result of being on the outside line while other competitors got past him on the coveted inside line.

The outside line was no-man’s land for everyone in yesterday’s race, and Hamlin was no different as he faded to his final result.

“It was a mess for sure,” Hamlin said in reference to the high groove. “I got hung up a couple times and went from seventh to 20th just by getting out of line one time.

“It was treacherous, but at this point [with] as many marbles as there were, you would think that there would be rubber on the race track. These tires just aren’t laying anything down.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).