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Johnson, Hamlin find speed problems at Martinsville

April 03, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Johnson dinged for speeding at entrance; Hamlin just too slow all around

The two drivers who had accounted for the past nine Sprint Cup Series victories at Martinsville Speedway failed to win Sunday because one was too fast on pit road and the other too slow.

Jimmie Johnson's chances to win were derailed by a late-race speeding penalty, while four-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin was tripped up by a combination of poor fuel mileage, slow stops and bad timing. Hamlin pitted under green two laps before Regan Smith brought out the caution on Lap 465 and Johnson pitted two laps later.

"Having a conversation isn't going to matter. I guess I just can't attack pit road like I know I can and like I did every single stop beforehand."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

In Hamlin's case, lousy fuel mileage once again led to the No. 11 Toyota team having to pit earlier than the competition. It caused Hamlin to give up the lead on Lap 318 under green, but despite an incident involving Brad Keselowski, the entire field cycled through stops, allowing Hamlin to keep his track position.

He had to pit under green again with fewer than 40 laps remaining, and was pinned down a lap when the yellow came out for Smith's accident.

But Hamlin wasn't happy with his stops all day, as he was consistently beaten out of the pits by teammate Kyle Busch and others. Hamlin stood with crew chief Mike Ford and owner Joe Gibbs for several minutes after the race ended, discussing what possible avenues the team might be able to take in the future.

"Just work on who we are going to have change tires for us, I guess," Hamlin said. "I don't know. Things like that, it's pretty tough, especially in mid-season. You've got chemistry and stuff you've got to deal with. But at this point, you've either got to work with what you've got or try to find somebody who maybe can do a better job. But you just don't know right now. We don't know what to do.

"As far as fuel mileage, and that results in the key to our bad finish, we'll go to [Toyota Racing Development] and figure out why we're getting such bad mileage. We had to stop a little bit before those guys and it put us in a bad spot when the caution came out. ... It was all about track position today. Those guys who came out of the pits in front had a big advantage."

Hamlin didn't have the dominant ride he's been blessed with in the past, but he certainly had a car better than a 12th-place finisher. He led seven times for 89 laps.

"We had a good car," Hamlin said. "We didn't have a great car. It seems like when the track did collect a little bit of rubber right there, our car fell off just a little bit.

"It's disappointing for sure. We're going to another good track next week for us. We've got to get rolling. We've got to get some good finishes, some solid finishes. At this point, I'm just happy we finished the race. We're making slow and steady progress, I guess."

Hamlin didn't mince words when he discussed what issues need to be addressed.

"Our mileage has sucked real bad," Hamlin said. "It sucked at Phoenix. It sucked here. We've just got to figure it out. We just don't have all the things we need to do to have a championship team. We don't have all those parts right now."

Several haulers over, Johnson was of a similar mindset. On Lap 467, NASCAR officials claimed Johnson crossed the timing line at the entrance to the pits at more than the mandated limit, a ruling Johnson refuted as soon as he climbed from his No. 48 Chevrolet.

"I wasn't speeding," Johnson said. "They didn't like how it looked, that I was taking advantage of my timing lines. I had this happen one other time where I do a good job of my timing lines, I knew exactly where I needed to accelerate, where I need to stop.

"There's just no way. The math that we do and way we know our timing lines, there's no way."

Johnson was placed at the tail end of the lead lap cars for the race's final restart and eventually finished 11th. It ended a stretch of 17 consecutive top-10 finishes at Martinsville, dating all the way back to his rookie season in 2002.

Johnson had the fastest cumulative pit road times Sunday, which he attributed to understanding how NASCAR checks speeding on pit road. But he said he did nothing differently in his last stop than he did six previous trips for service.

"When you accelerate real hard through your timing zone, a lot of guys get dinged for that," Johnson said. "I've been dinged a couple different times. Usually you get dinged when you pass someone or break the plane of the car in front of you. With no one there, I accelerated like I always do from my mark and there's just no way."

When asked if he was planning to discuss the penalty with NASCAR, Johnson responded in the negative.

"It wouldn't do me any good," Johnson said. "Having a conversation isn't going to matter. I guess I just can't attack pit road like I know I can and like I did every single stop beforehand."

Johnson had led three times for 95 laps and came out of the pits at that point second behind Kyle Busch, who finished third behind eventual winner Kevin Harvick and Hendrick teammate and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. For Johnson, not having the chance to fight for the win at the end was more frustrating than the actual penalty.

"We would have had a shot at it," Johnson said. "You want to hope that you can race for it, so I'm disappointed about that. It just sucks to have that taken away from me at the end. That's racing. I'm not the first guy to get dinged on pit road and think it wasn't his fault, and I know I won't be the last, so let's go on."

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