Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Martinsville Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Denny Hamlin took the lead with 74 laps to go, then benefited from some obstinate lapped traffic behind him to hold off Jeff Gordon for the win.

In a Nutshell: There’s nothing wrong with the new NASCAR an old racetrack can’t fix.

Dramatic Moment: Every restart featured the sort of fender-banging, bumper-beating, tire-smoking action that put this sport on the map.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Where were all the fans? Yeah, the weather was pretty bad, but the on-track action was typical Martinsville hot.

I think any writer who is going to write off Jack Roush’s comments on his stolen suspension piece ought to at least know the difference between a sway bar and a gay bar. Yeah, I know, it’s easier to talk about Tony Stewart‘s haircut than to study the greasy bits of racecars.

Who better to ask if Michael Waltrip‘s Toyota team did anything wrong than Waltrip’s brother, who is also on the Toyota payroll? I mean, there’s an objective opinion. I think I liked it better when DW was mute. And who, exactly, are these “Raisin Boys” Waltrip is so high on?

The media pundits seemed a lot more impressed with Michael McDowell‘s efforts than the other drivers who had to share the track with him.

NASCAR this week said they would not allow teams to switch points to get one of their drivers into a Top-35 owner points position. (Which guarantees, of course, that driver and team earn a spot in each race, as long as they remain in the Top 35). That’s truly outstanding. Now, if they’d just finish the job and get rid of that ridiculous rule that gives any team in the Top 35 a spot in each race – they might be onto something.

Eddie Gossage of the Texas track offered to allow NASCAR and Goodyear to test at his track prior to next weekend’s Cup event. That means if next week’s race is a debacle like Atlanta, at least the track’s GM has his butt covered… leaving Goodyear and NASCAR the ones looking foolish.

Kyle Busch certainly has been a weapon of mass destruction this year. After Saturday’s truck race, I was half expecting to see the Army invade Virginia.

See also
Voices From the Heartland: Silly Sponsors and Another Nail in the Manufacturers'

I’ve never heard of a sponsor suing a driver to remove their sponsorship decals from his racecar; but after watching Robby Gordon on Sunday, I can understand why they did so. Side note: it was apparently Gordon’s statement that, “Street gangs in L.A. are more dangerous than Al-Qaeda” which made Vanguard decide to part ways with the self-proclaimed “America’s most versatile racecar driver.”

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Busch had an eventful weekend. He wrecked on the final lap of the truck race, got spun by his brother in the Cup race, then went into nuclear meltdown and ran into everyone else while more than 50 laps off the pace.

Matt Kenseth got nailed on pit road, penalized for pitting out of the box, knocked around like a cue ball and finally got summoned to the NASCAR trailer after deciding to park David Gilliland to avenge an earlier incident. He wound up 30th.

David Reutimann had a decent run going before suffering a ring and pinion failure. As a result, once again he’ll be forced to make next week’s race on speed, while the new driver of the car Reutimann drove for the first five races gets a mulligan.

Carl Edwards ran out of gas on the final lap, the second straight race he’s had fuel problems coming to the finish line.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Every fan on hand who wanted to see 500 laps of racing. It seemed like it was raining during the entire day; but somehow, they got it in.

Hamlin was called into the pits out of the lead just as it seemed weather was going to end the event early. But the rains held off, and the pit strategy eventually worked out for the No. 11 team and their driver.

Jeff Gordon‘s day could easily have ended when the nose of his Chevy got bent up in the Martin Truex Jr./Bobby Labonte wreck. Two pit stops for repairs dropped Gordon to the back of the field; but he recovered nicely to finish second. What were people saying about the Hendrick teams being down for the count?

Jimmie Johnson got spun when the No. 12 and No. 16 cars tangled, but he fought back to fourth by the checkered flag.

Despite a very sore back that made every lap agonizing – and put Dennis Setzer on standby duty – Elliott Sadler drove to a credible 15th-place finish.

Jamie McMurray‘s eighth-place run was good enough that he won’t have to race his way into the Texas field on speed. That’s probably a good thing, too, because McMurray’s qualified 31st or worse in four of the last six Texas Cup races.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Toyotas and a pair of Fords. The best finishing Dodge driver was Juan Pablo Montoya in 13th.
  • Regan Smith‘s 14th-place finish was the best by a rookie at Martinsville.
  • Setzer’s win in Saturday’s truck race was the first by any Dodge driver since the late Bobby Hamilton won at Mansfield on May 15, 2005, almost three years ago. It was also the first win by any manufacturer other than Toyota this season.
  • Hamlin scored his first top-five finish of the season, and his first win since Loudon last summer.
  • Jeff Gordon (second) managed his best finish of the year; he hadn’t finished that well since winning Charlotte last fall. He now has top-five results in the last seven Martinsville Cup races.
  • Jeff Burton (third) has earned four straight top-10 finishes.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (sixth) has top-10 finishes in five of this year’s six Cup point races.
  • Casey Mears‘s seventh-place finish was easily his best of 2008, and his highest since Talladega last fall (sixth).
  • McMurray (eighth) scored his first top-10 finish of 2008, and his best run since Dover last fall (also eighth).
  • Edwards (ninth) managed his first top-10 finish since he won back-to-back races earlier this season.
  • Kevin Harvick (12th) missed the top 10 for the first time in five races.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya‘s 13th-place finish wasn’t without incident, but it was the best result of the year for the sophomore.
  • Dario Franchitti‘s 22nd-place finish was the best of his six race Cup career.

What’s the Points?

Burton advanced three spots to take over the points lead. Burton is 39 points ahead of second-place Harvick, who advanced a spot to second; he jumped over Greg Biffle, who fell down a spot to third.

Three high-profile drivers advanced into the top 12 this week. Hamlin advanced seven spots to eighth in the standings, Gordon made up five spots to take over ninth, and Johnson moved up three spots to 10th.

Naturally, three drivers had to fall out of the top 12 to make room for those above. Kurt Busch fell six spots to 16th, Kenseth dropped four spots to 15th, and Truex fell a spot to 13th, now putting him 45 points outside the top 12.

Other high-profile drivers moving forward include McMurray (up six spots to 30th), Mears (also up six spots to 27th) and Edwards, up two spots to 14th in the standings.

STOP THE PRESSES: Earnhardt Jr. advanced a spot to fourth in the standings, 69 out of the lead.

On the flip side, notable drivers losing ground included Ryan Newman (down three spots to 11th), Clint Bowyer (down three spots to 12th) and Bobby Labonte (down three spots to 21st).

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one five chilly and damp cans of Colorado Kool-Aid, with a shot of JD to restore blood circulation to fans’ fingers and toes.

Next Up: The circuit heads off to Texas, so get ready for some really lame cowboy jokes from the media. There just ain’t no cowboys in the Carolinas.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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