Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martinsville Race Recap

Key Moment – Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick spent their money to enter stock car racing? Seriously, on a day where Jimmie Johnson set a career high for laps led, where Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing led all but two laps, it’s hard to find a “defining moment.” Maybe Friday afternoon when Jimmie Johnson won the pole? When a driver “owns” a track, like Johnson has owned Martinsville during his career, earning the quickest route off pit lane just makes it that much easier for him to whip the field. He used that first pit stall to regain control, late in the race and it was all over but the burnouts after that.

Jimmie Johnson was at it again Sunday, dominating Martinsville for his eighth career victory at the track. Only Richard Petty (15) and Darrell Waltrip (11) have more.

In a Nutshell – Jimmie Johnson started on the pole and led the most laps (346) but didn’t lead the first one, as Marcos Ambrose snuck back to the start/finish line ahead after the drop of the green. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were then the main challengers to the No. 48. Combined, they led 152 laps but Johnson regained the top spot with ease down the stretch. First off pit lane, after Ryan Newman brought out the caution on lap 362 Johnson never let it slip from his grasp from that point on.

Behind them, Martinsville’s patented mayhem produced only one minor flareup. Brian Vickers had the most eventful day, causing a couple of caution flags and then getting into a post-race confrontation, on track with Kevin Harvick in turn one after the checkered flag flew. Danica Patrick was two laps down at one point in time but rallied for a 12th-place finish in her first Martinsville event.

Dramatic Moment – When Johnson started his engine on pit road and it fired.

Again, the race itself held very little drama outside of a fiery crash for Kurt Busch that displayed the effectiveness of the on board fire suppression system required on all NASCAR Cup cars. The diciest moment didn’t even occur inside the top 10. Danica Patrick and Brian Vickers had an intense duel for 11th place, coming to the checkers which resulted in Vickers moving Patrick out of the way in Turn 4 as they were coming to the line. Kevin Harvick, who finished 13th in a three-wide finish with Vickers and Patrick then intentionally spun Vickers in Turn 1. As the cars were headed down the back straight, ready to make the left-hander into the garage, it looked like Vickers was going to take a shot at Patrick but Harvick didn’t let him get near her.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Point leader no more: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. struggled to keep it on the pavement at Martinsville in what was easily his worst race of 2013.

Jimmie Johnson hosed Dale Junior after his late-race spin. When Earnhardt Jr. twirled around in Turns 3 and 4, late in the race off of the front bumper of Danica Patrick (who was pushed by Brian Vickers, who may have had help from Aric Almirola … you know how these Martinsville wrecks go) he was blocking the track so the rest of the field had to stop. Earnhardt backed up to get pointed in the right direction, ready to pull away and, in theory keep from losing a lap. But that’s when Johnson drove over the curb instead, holding speed to get by the No. 88 while the rest of the field waited for Earnhardt to get going. That cost Junior an extra lap, one he’d never earn back and ended the day two laps down in 24th. Would staying only one lap down have allowed Earnhardt to finish on the lead lap after the final caution for Kurt Busch? It is impossible to say; all we know is Five-Time didn’t make any friends in Junior Nation by moving around NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.

Speaking of teammates playing well with each other, there was obvious concerted efforts by the JGR gang on restarts during the race while there were no such shenanigans between the Hendrick teammates. On a handful of restarts when the JGR duo of Kenseth and Busch were on the front row, the leader would take the outside while the second-place runner would let the leader drop in front, ensuring the two drivers would both be able to maintain their positions (otherwise, the second-place runner risked being hung on the outside and freight trained.) That orchestrated teamwork seemed to upset Brad Keselowski; he gave some serious bumps to the JGR cars when given an opportunity late in the event.

Roma Downey was one of the producers of the recent television series The Bible. But after the less than inspired command to start engines at Martinsville, she might want to seek some divine intervention on just how to instruct professional drivers to crank up.

Note to the talking heads in the FOX Hotel, Cafe and Bistro or whatever that contraption is that you have in the infield for races. Kyle Busch did not bump Brad Keselowski because Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have some bad feelings going on right now. Last I checked, this sport is called NASCAR, not The Hatfields and McCoys. The drivers will settle things amongst themselves, once the time comes. They don’t need teammates, on both sides roughing up each other to send some sort of message.

In an off the cuff comment in the middle of the race, Darrell Waltrip made the following statement about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leading the points: “As long as it doesn’t last.” Knowing DW, it wasn’t intended as a dig but it just seemed like a very odd thing to say about the driver that more people would like to see win the title than any other.

Denny Hamlin was giving Mark Martin tips on how to drive during the STP Gas Booster 500. That’s like Krusty the Clown telling David Copperfield how to make a quarter appear out of some kid’s ear. Sure, Hamlin was just trying to assist in getting the team a good finish, but considering Martin ran his first Cup race before Hamlin was one year old, he might just want to sit back and observe.

For the folks at FOX, you might want to figure out if you can limit the effect of G-forces on your Gyro Cam. Martinsville has only 12 degrees of banking, but the in-car shots from the Gyro looked like they were going around Daytona.

Regan Smith sent David Reutimann for a spin on Sunday that looked remarkably similar to Kyle Larson taking out C.E. Falk during the Battle at the Beach at Daytona during Speedweeks. So why no tempers flaring there?

Speaking of Reutimann, he and Carl Edwards did a fine job of spinning and continuing in the proper direction without hitting anything. Earnhardt Jr. didn’t hit anything, either but didn’t end up pointing the right direction, ultimately costing him.

Glad to see there were only two start-and-park cars in the race this week.

Gotta send a little love to Jeb Burton. Ward’s boy was on the pole for the Truck race on Saturday, then led 154 laps and came home with a third-place finish. Pretty freaking cool for his seventh start in the Camping World Truck Series – it’s a family name, but with real talent and a bright future ahead.

Danica Patrick pulled it together Sunday after a month of mediocre finishes. A 12th at Martinsville was easily her best since a season-opening top 10 at Daytona.

Danica was seen roughing up Junior during the late stages of the event. While Junior relayed through his spotter that things were all good between them, you have to know that the folks in Daytona had to be soiling themselves seeing their two golden geese mixing it up on the track.

Kurt Busch had a very toasty wreck near the end of the race that ended with him against the wall, hard with flames billowing from under the hood of his car. He had some difficulty getting the window net down on the No. 78 Chevrolet and ended up hitting the on-board fire extinguishing system as a failsafe. They didn’t show it on TV, of course but they did show the in-car at the track. It was impressive to see how rapidly the extinguishing system worked and we’re glad Kurt got out OK. Hopefully, his team will trim that window net bar a little bit so that it will come down more quickly.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Martinsville and Brian Vickers just do not go well together. Vickers had a hand in at least three cautions during the event and ended up 11th with a Toyota that looked like it had been blown up. At least this time, contenders Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray stayed in the clear…

Brad Keselowski was completely hosed by a bad call on pit road when a NASCAR official made them realign the car in his box; it happened even though a replay showed his tire was not even on the white line, let alone over it. Pit road officials are human, and the human element is a very important part of the game, but let’s hope the No. 2 team at least gets an apology email from Daytona on this one.

Similar to Paulie Harraka last week, we have to give some love to Kurt Busch, who ended his race with a ball of flame against the outside retaining wall. After having fuel pump issues during the race, Busch was just logging laps hoping to salvage points when his brakes went out and he had to put it into the wall to avoid a head-on impact. When it was all said and done, he ended the event 37th.

Martin Truex, Jr. was minding his own business during the race when people checked up in front of him for the caution that flew when the “Big One” happened. He ended up having to go to the garage, completely rebuilding the front of his car. While running at the end, the 2012 Chaser was 115 laps down in 40th and is now a distant 25th in points.

Ryan Newman had some self-inflicted Hindenburg Foul Fortune when he stopped on track to bring out a caution once he had a flat tire. NASCAR race control did not think highly of that maneuver, which resulted in Newman being penalized three laps. He wound up 31st.

Interestingly, there was a “Big One” at Martinsville after an early restart where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and others got jammed up in the top groove. For the drivers involved, here is an honorable mention in the Foul Fortune category for: Nos. 1, 9, 11, 15, 17, 22, 31, 55, 56, 88, and 93.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

It may be weak for the race winner to get some love in this category, but c’mon. J. J. led 346 laps and moved into third all-time on the Martinsville wins list. We have to give him a shout for running the entire race inside the top four.

Brian Vickers had a day he’d probably like to forget but somehow, he managed to keep all four tires on the car, which was more than you can say for the fenders. He ended up with an 11th-place finish.

After starting at the rear, due to an engine change Danica Patrick was on the receiving end of some love from Kenny Schrader, which put her to the back of the pack shortly after the race began. However, through grit and determination Patrick overcame the spin, and eventually falling two laps down to the leader, to come home with a 12th-place finish.

Jamie McMurray earned his second top-10 finish of 2013 with a solid, seventh-place run on Sunday. He had just three top 10s in all of 2012.

Jamie McMurray shook off his involvement in the Big One and soldiered to a seventh-place result, his best so far in the first six races of 2013.

Clint Bowyer was involved in the Big One at lap 181 and had to receive multiple bare bond patches to repair the front of his car. He then had a pit road penalty on lap 190, which sent him to the back and seemingly ended his chances to contend. But when the dust settled, in the stretch run the No. 15 was mega fast and charged all the way to second place. It’s a highly successful weekend, no doubt no matter what Bowyer might be teasing about on Twitter.

Worth Noting

  • JGR and Hendrick Motorsports have won 18 of the last 23 races at Martinsville.
  • Not sure how we missed this one, but thank God and all things holy that Digger isn’t part of the FOX broadcasts this year. The pure hatred for the little vermin probably explains why we hadn’t noticed him being absent this year; but honestly, he and his idiotic lot are not missed.
  • Jimmie Johnson is officially third all-time in wins at Martinsville, trailing Richard Petty (15) and Darrell Waltrip (11) with eight victories and 20 top 10s in 23 career races.
  • Johnson’s win was the 62nd of his career. He is 14 races behind Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time list, trailing only Jeff Gordon among active drivers.
  • In 1964, H. Clay Earles gave a Ridgeway Grandfather Clock to Fred Lorenzen after he won a race at Martinsville. Since then, the winner of the Cup race has received one of the eight-foot tall masterpieces. For years, they awarded clocks to anyone who won a Sunday race at the legendary track. In recent years, they have also started awarding them to drivers in the Truck Series who win on Saturdays.
  • Danica Patrick was the Rookie of the Race with a 12th-place result. It’s the first time she’s beaten boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. since Daytona.

The top 10 at Martinsville included:

Chevrolet – 4
Toyota – 3
Ford – 3

What’s the Points?

Jimmie Johnson leads the series in wins and also leads the points with 231. Johnson does trail Keselowski and Earnhardt, Jr. in top 10s, by one which slots those two in at second and third, respectively. Both remain winless in 2013. Kyle Busch sits fourth in points, with one win and is tied with Keselowski in top 5s, 28 points behind Johnson. Kasey Kahne is sitting in fifth, also with a victory in his pocket.

Greg Biffle has not won yet but is in the running for the Chase, sitting sixth in points. Biffle’s teammate Carl Edwards is working on staying inside the top 10. He has a win this season but sits 38 points out of the lead. Bowyer continues to battle the previous season runner-up jinx but will most likely not be able to avoid it based on the history of the series. For now, he is eighth in points but more than a full race behind Johnson. Paul Menard still manages a strong start again this season, sitting ninth in the standings, tied with Bowyer. Matt Kenseth rounds out the top 10, 59 behind Johnson and five ahead of Joey Logano in eleventh.

Further back, Denny Hamlin dropped from 10th to 18th in just one week. When he does return, winning races will be a must, assuming he can make it back in time to claw back into the top 20.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – As Martinsville races go, it was about as average as they come. There were a lot of bruised cars and egos but 38 cars were still running at the finish. There was an intentional spin after the checkered flag, though and someone ended the day on fire so that earns the race four frosty adult soda pops of your choice. I gave three cans for an average race and one due to Martinsville being a short track. You automatically get one can of extra credit because there can never be enough short tracks on the schedule.

Next Up — The Cup Series heads to Texas to compete for the right to wear a giant cowboy hat and fire some fake bullets out of two revolvers. One thing is for sure… the cars are going to be very fast. Let’s hope that the excessive speed does not translate into a failure to pass, though. The race will take place on Saturday night at 8:00 PM; it can be seen on FOX and heard on your local PRN affiliate.

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