MARTINSVILLE, VA (WWBT) - Denny Hamlin knew Sunday's race at Martinsville was a must-win if he hoped to stay in contention for a Sprint Cup, but after putting himself in a position to do that, fell victim to mechanical problems and saw his championship hopes disappear in his home state.
The Chesterfield native started fifth, and after being penalized for speeding on pit road, fought his way back up to take the lead and looked to be in the thick of things. He would be penalized for the same thing later in the race, but again, claw his way back up to the top spot. His luck would run out, however, as an electrical problem caused his car to stall with 131 laps to go. Hamlin would have to head to the garage, costing him valuable time, and he would stumble to a 33rd place finish.
The disastrous day dropped Hamlin from third to fifth in the Sprint Cup Standings, as he is now 49 points behind new leader Jimmie Johnson. It's a gap that almost impossible to make up with just three races remaining.
Johnson, meanwhile, took the lead by winning Sunday's race, his seventh checkered flag at Martinsville. He holds a slim two point lead over Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth.
The Sprint Cup circuit makes its way to Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday for the eighth race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.