Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 STP 500 at Martinsville

Who’s in the headlineDenny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have struggled for over a year to get its cars back into Victory Lane. The cure for what ails a team can be heading to a place where the driver feels extra comfortable. With four Ridgeway clocks already in his home, Martinsville Speedway is quite possibly the best elixir for Hamlin and the No. 11 team. He had a strong car, although not the dominant car, all day at the half-mile track in southern Virginia, and he put himself in the right place at the right time, which was in the top spot as the checkered flag flew.

What happened – Cool temperatures kept the track from taking a lot of rubber on Sunday, and the teams had one fewer set of tires than they normally have at Martinsville. The cars ended up slipping and sliding quite a bit, which led to 16 caution flags totaling 112 laps. The cautions put a premium on restarts, which are a challenge at Martinsville due to the high line being at a severe disadvantage. Passing was difficult but not impossible, which could be seen in the 13 drivers exchanging the lead 31 times. Kevin Harvick led a race-high 154 laps but faded at the end to an eighth-place finish. That brought his streak of top-two finishes to an end at eight.

Jeff Gordon was poised to score his ninth career win at the track, but a speeding penalty on pit road during the final caution of the day sent him to the back of the field and relegated him to a ninth-place finish. Hamlin took advantage of Gordon’s miscue and restarted on the inside lane for the final green-flag run of the race and credited that fortune for his victory.

Why you should care – Joe Gibbs Racing is the flagship for Toyota Racing and to have the team struggle so mightily for the last year has put a lot of pressure on the organization. The team is far from out of the weeds, but it put three teams in the top five on Sunday and helped Penske Racing shut Chevrolet out of the top five altogether. Having all three manufacturers contend for wins on a weekly basis provides more excitement to the sport and excites a larger portion of the fanbase. The racing in general on Sunday was exciting throughout the field, but we all know that you get that on short tracks.

What your friends are talking aboutKyle Larson was not in the No. 42 on Sunday after passing out during an autograph session on Saturday. He was taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte for an examination by a neurologist. He was apparently dehydrated when the event occurred but felt fine by the time he was seen in Charlotte. The doctors in Charlotte did not clear him to race on Sunday so Regan Smith jumped into a crew member’s firesuit and wheeled the Target ride to a 16th-place finish. Hopefully this is one of those inexplicable incidents that will never rear its ugly head again so that Larson is able to race as long as he wants to.

NASCAR confiscated tires after Martinsville to continue its audit of tires that began at Phoenix. Rumors are rampant in the garage that some teams have been drilling minute holes in tires to allow air pressure to bleed off as it builds. If teams could control the air pressure in the tires to be more consistent throughout the runs, they would better manage the balance of the car for the entire race. It’s not the first time that rumors have spread in the garage about teams bleeding air off of the tires to keep them at a consistent pressure. In 2006, the Richard Childress teams of Jeff Burton and Harvick were rumored to have laser cut rims so that they would bleed off air as the temperatures in the tires built up. While there were rumors that were vehemently denied by those affiliated with RCR, there were no penalties ever issued.

Bringing up Danica Patrick is always cause for heated debate and discussion, especially in this column, but it should be noted that her seventh-place finish ties her for the all-time lead among female drivers in NASCAR for top-10 finishes. Janet Guthrie had five top-10 runs during her four year foray into NASCAR. She accomplished that feat in 33 races, but both drivers now have five apiece. It has taken Patrick 87 races to accumulate her five finishes, but four of those have come in the last 32 events.

Joey Logano‘s triumph in the Truck Series race on Saturday makes him the 26th driver in the history of NASCAR to win a race in all three of the national touring divisions. Ken Schrader was the very first driver to accomplish the feat in 1995 with a win at Saugus Speedway in the Truck Series. He had previously scored his first win at Talladega in the Cup Series in 1988 and at Dover in the Xfinity Series in 1989. Logano’s first Cup victory was at New Hampshire in 2009 and Kentucky in the XFINITY Series in 2008.

As mentioned above, NASCAR reduced the available tires for Cup teams by a set at Martinsville from 11 to 10. The move will save each team somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 thanks to the cost of a set of tires running $1,900. While it is a step in the right direction, the greater cost savings could be realized if the sport would dictate to Goodyear that it come up with compounds that will work for all of the tracks in a certain class of facility. If NASCAR pushed Goodyear to make a soft, medium and hard compound that worked on all intermediate and 2-mile speedways, the teams could purchase tires for one track and take them to other tracks instead of having to eat the cost of unused tires for each event. With tires for superspeedways, intermediates, short tracks and road courses of different compounds the teams would have a new level of strategy to invoke during the events. It would obviously cut into Goodyear’s bottom line but the fact that it has a monopoly on race rubber already sets it up for a pretty lucrative payday every year from the sport.

On a sad note Earl Baltes, the founder of Eldora Speedway passed away this week at the age of 93. Baltes built the famed dirt track in rural Ohio in 1954 and promoted it until he sold the facility to Tony Stewart in 2004. Baltes promoted the biggest dirt races in the world without the help of television money and had some of the lowest concession prices of any racetrack anywhere. His vision and ethics are the yard stick by which all other promoters should be measured.

Frontstretch also sends out prayers to Steve Byrnes. The longtime broadcaster received poor results from a PET scan this week and continues his battle against cancer. Byrnes continues to receive the love and support of the tight knit racing community and will hopefully be back in the booth soon.

Who is mad – Gordon is mad, but only at himself. He had the car to beat late in the event, came down pit lane with the lead and left as the first person with fresh tires. However, he was busted for speeding in segment five on pit lane and had to start tail end of the field. With 34 laps left in the event, it was too big of a hill to climb and Gordon went home with a disappointing ninth-place finish.

AJ Allmendinger had the Cinderella story of 2014 with the win at Watkins Glen that propelled him to the Chase for the Cup. He started off 2015 looking stronger than he had last season with great runs on intermediate tracks that were the team’s Achilles heel in 2014. His car looked sporty at the beginning of the race on Sunday, but after running in the top 10 for the first 150 laps of the event, the engine went south and relegated him to a 43rd-place finish. Added to the 34th-place run at Fontana last week, the impact for Allmendinger is now a 20th-place points standing.

Jimmie Johnson owns Martinsville. His average finish is 7.3 and he has eight wins at the track, second only to Dover on his career list. He only has three runs at the venerable track that are worse than 12th in his 27 career starts at the facility. Interestingly enough, two of those three runs have been in the last two races at the track. We’ve heard it before from Johnson and crew chief Chas Knaus, but there was definite anger on the radio over the state of the car on Sunday. Don’t expect it to mean anything when September rolls around and they are in contention for a record tying seventh championship, but it was interesting to see and hear the current kings of the paperclip sound totally out to lunch.

Who is happy – Joe Gibbs has to be about as happy as they come among the owners in the Cup Series. During the post race press conference, Hamlin admitted that the competition meeting on Tuesday was one of the longest ever and that Coach raised his voice, which rarely happens. The company has struggled as a whole for some time now and is most likely feeling pressure from the folks at Toyota America to step it up. Putting three of the four teams in the top five and having the fourth team in contention for a top five until a flat tire took them out most certainly has to have the patriarch of the company grinning. David Ragan is definitely grinning right alongside Coach after finally landing a top five in his substitute role for Kyle Busch.

Martin Truex Jr. continues to ride the good mojo wave of 2015 after his previous couple seasons of down results. Truex turned in another top-10 run on Sunday, coming home in the sixth position, which makes it six straight to start the season. It is the second most top 10s in a season for Furniture Row, trailing only 2013 when Kurt Busch did it 16 times. Truex hopes to continue riding the wave of good fortune as he heads to Texas, one of his favorite tracks.

As mentioned above, Patrick came home in seventh place for her fifth top 10 of her career. She not only turned in the first top 10 of the season but was the highest finishing Stewart Haas competitor. The naysayers will point out that she is running the best equipment in the business and should be running that well every week, but it cannot be denied that she outran everyone else on her team and was the second-highest finishing Chevrolet on Sunday behind Truex Jr.

When the checkered flag flew

Hamlin’s win is the 25th of his career. He has scored those wins in 332 starts. Hamlin’s win ties him with Joe Weatherly for the most by a Virginia driver in the history of the sport. Hamlin is tied for 27th on the all-time wins list with Kurt Busch, Jim Paschal and Weatherly. This is Hamlin’s fifth career win at Martinsville Speedway in 19 career starts.

Brad Keselowski‘s runner-up finish was his best career run in Martinsville. Keselowski has two consecutive top-two runs, his only top twos this season. This is Keselowski’s 11th career second, which ties him with Tim Richmond, Alan Kulwicki, Paul Goldsmith and Darel Dieringer for 58th on the all-time list.

Logano has finished on the podium twice in 13 career starts at Martinsville. He has two top threes this season. In his career, he has run in the top three 23 times, which ties him with Dick Brooks for 72nd on the all-time list.

Patrick’s seventh-place run is the best by a woman at Martinsville.

Brett Moffitt was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his 28th-place finish.

Harvick’s streak of top-two runs ends at eight thanks to his eighth-place run. Martinsville is where Richard Petty‘s run of 11 straight ended in 1975.

Harvick leads the point standings by 24 over Logano.

Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin all have wins in 2015. Harvick is locked into the Chase assuming he attempts the rest of the races or receives an exemption should he miss any events. Logano, Johnson, Keselowski and Hamlin have the inside track to the Chase with 20 races left in the “regular season”.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after six races without wins and their standing in points

    1. Martin Truex Jr.
    2. Kasey Kahne
    3. Ryan Newman
    4. Paul Menard
    5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    6. Aric Almirola
    7. Matt Kenseth
    8. David Ragan
    9. Casey Mears
    10. Jamie McMurray
    11. Danica Patrick

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $3,136,800, while the last-place finisher has taken home $623,760

In the Xinity Series it has been $440,217 for the winners and $88,872 for last place.

After three Truck races the winner has $188,425 and the last loser has banked $30,813.

What is in the cooler – The oldest race track on the circuit once again did not disappoint. While the penalty for restarting on the outside is quite severe and certainly cost Harvick a shot at continuing his top-two streak, people were able to pass. Keselowski almost made it happen on the outside with just over one lap to go. 31 lead changes and paint traded from first to last all day long, along with 41 cars running at the finish makes for a great day at the race track. It may not have been side-by-side with tire smoke and sparks at the finish but it was a tremendous race after the mind numbing, aero-dependent drivel we’ve seen over three of the last four weeks. That said it earns five ice-cold Witchback Ales from 2 Witches Winery and Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next weekend is Easter and all three of the national touring series have the week off. In two weeks, the schedule swings through Texas where you can see the action on FOX on Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. It is also available on your local PRN affiliate and NASCAR SiriusXM radio. If you are looking for a racing fix next weekend visit your local track. The long term health of the sport depends on it.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Bill B

I love watching races at Martinsville. There is just never a dull moment. If there is one thing NASCAR could do to make the racing better it would be to have more short tracks. The only thing that really ruins the event are the double file restarts. Drivers starting on the outside are at such a disadvantage that it just kills the fairness from a competition stand point.
Still, I’ll give it a six pack. After watching the previous 5 races this race stands out by far as the best.

Tim S.

Yes, compared to the vastly underwhelming Southeastern Start and the Western Snooze, this one was an award-worthy classic.


I was surprised when I fell asleep because I found the race pretty interesting. I’d like to blame my drifting off on the fact that about a fifth of the race was run under caution. Truth is though, I’m an old man and fall asleep is what we do. Anyone else have this problem?


LOL, well, I’m not an old “man” so I’ll have to say no to having this problem. I didn’t have any problem napping thru the two previously run races though but that was because they were boring beyond all recognition.


If boredom is your thing, the night race at Texas usually doesn’t disappoint.

Bill B

Oh yeah. A caution for a water bottle? It’s about time that NASCAR starts mandating that water bottles be identifiable to each team (official water bottles distributed by NASCAR?). When one shows up on the track there should be a 5 lap penalty. Under no circumstances should a driver throw anything that isn’t on fire out their window.


i saw that and shook my head. i guess hendrick check didn’t clear in time this week for a hendrick owned or satellite organization could win.


BillB, my favorite was Johnson getting the penalty for throwing something out of his car over pit road. He and Chaddie were fighting on the radio, so I was wondering if he was trying to bean him with it.

Bill B

Johnson didn’t throw something. It was the pit crew. Someone behind the wall threw a wrench to one of the pit guys to make a wedge adjustment. Apparently that isn’t legal anymore…. “All equipment must be controlled (in someone’s hands) during a pit stop”.


oops, sorry, I guess the info on twitter was wrong since most of the time I pay no attention to what the driver of the 48 does. I like my version better though (smiling)


Bill B, If a driver wanted to throw Ol DW or LarryMcIlliterate out the window (any window anywhere) I’d be fine with that even if it took 20 caution laps and a fire hose to clean up the mess.


i wonder when na$car will address the stopping at the end of pit road to get restart position advantage (outside line vs. inside line). near end of race when teams realized what was being done almost caused a wad of race cars at the end of pit road.

is it me, or does dw seem irritated when his brother opens his mouth lately. i liked the one comment dw said when michael made comment about the chef who has an ill temper, and michael said why is he so angry and dw said it’s for the show. lately dw seems more and more annoyed at his brother. also michael’s track walk is wearing on drivers. yesterday you saw people running to get out of his way.

race was ok…held my interest. and oh yes…….it was a banner day for princess sparkle pony. maybe it’s the go daddy green car that is her jinx.

i feel so bad for steve byrnes and his friends and family. i just pray that a miracle happens and that his life is happy and full again. such a good guy, hate cancer.

Bill B

I forgot to mention my annoyance at the shenanigans occurring at the end of pit road with drivers trying to ensure they get an odd/inside spot on the restart. It definitely ain’t racing and it will eventually cause someone a major issue. Plus it just looks bad on the overall sport when you are watching the race (like group qualifying at the restrictor plate tracks). As mentioned in my earlier comment, this is a direct result of the double file restarts not working at track like Martinsville.


i still don’t understand this qualifying crap. friday night when i got home from work i flipped foxsports1 on and saw qualifying. then they start talking about so and so not making the cut, i think it was kenseth. i guess i’m just old and can’t adapt to this new stuff. i believe in the KISS theory.


Janice, I’m with you, I don’t like the “new” qualifying so i don’t bother to watch. I know some people thought the single car stuff was boring but at least that way I felt that each driver got a fair shot to make his or her best run.

Bill, I’m with you about the silliness going on to try and work the #’s so you get an odd position for the restart. Pretty much everyone knows that starting on the outside is not the best thing but causing a logjam at the end of pit road is really stupid.

I really hate that NASCAR has to weigh in on this but i guess they are going to have to do it.

I’m a big fan of short track racing, always have been. Martinsville is fun to watch – some people drive it well, others never seem to get the knack. I have observed the difference for Kenseth in particular. He was always a billard ball when he drove for Roush but now that he’s in a Toyota, he seems to have a handle on Martinsville. I’ve found that very interesting.

So it took Danica almost 3 times as many races to get the same number of top 10’s that Guthrie did and the sport was VERY different then and not nearly so friendly to female racers. Funny old world, isn’t it?


gina – i too thought the same thing when i saw the women racing in nascar stats. i remember watching patty moise race in busch series all those years ago.

interesting enough how one of the talking heads mentioned danica’s contract negotiations and her good run yesterday.

Carl D.


The list of winless drivers eligible for the chase should be numbered from 6th thru 16th, not 3rd thru 13th. A minor mistake, yeah, but my driver had a shot at the win yesterday and came up one position short, so I’m feeling a bit pissy this morning.

Mike Neff

Thank you Carl. The drivers were listed by their point position number when it was originally posted. For some reason they renumbered themselves overnight starting with Truex being number three. I’ll attempt to get it fixed today. Thanks for taking the time to read and especially keeping me honest.


wonder if there will be chase qualification rule change if jr keeps free falling.

Carl D.

Not if Danica keeps rising.


I’ll leave it to Phil tomorrow (esp. since I have apparently “plucked his last nerve”) but I found it highly amusing they reported that Kyle Larson was trying to watch the race from the hospital but could not because the hospital didn’t get Foxsports1. A lot of folks are in the same boat as FOX tries to use enraged race fans to get their cable providers to add FS1. My cable co. is happy to provide it to me as part of a $35 “premium sports” package. If I want FS2 that’s part of a “ultra premium” sports package that would add another $35 a month to the bill. Not happening. I’d gladly pay 35 bucks for FS3 if it included self-muting whenever DW spoke.

Also amusing is the fact that while FOX normally dotes on JJ they failed to explain how he got to be 31 laps down. I might have missed it because my landlord was tuning an unmuffled car in the driveway because his wife wouldn’t put up with it at his place) but I wasn’t the only one. When DW noted JJ had gonea lap down Mike Joy had to note “31 laps down”. You don’t reckon it could have anything to do with those tiny holes in tires being banned now do ya?

Happy Easter all.


Matt, I thought that was amusing, too. Big surprise, FS1 isn’t on a lot of people’s basic tier and while I do have it, I am not interested in paying for FS2 in the least. Fox may be surprised to find there are less enraged NASCAR fans demanding FS1 be added than they might think.

I listen with the tv muted so I can hear the scanner thru my computer so that I don’t have to listen to any Waltrip-isms – older or younger brother or Larry Mac making noise about nothing so I missed all of the wrong info that DW gave out.

I agree, too, with TimS that the struggles of the 48 team are just so overblown. Hey, they have a win, they won’t fall out of the top 30 in points, this is just so much hot air or smoke and mirrors. I don’t really care about them anyway.

Agree about the difference between Guthrie and Patrick – totally different people and race cars. Plus no lucky dogs or wave arounds when Guthrie raced.


Why is it NA$CAR doesn’t blink an eye to toss the yellow hankie at a piece of tape on the track or a car gets a little out of shape but waits a long time when a car slams the wall (such as Stenhouse yesterday) to see if it gets going again before they toss the rag?
And the last yellow for a plastic bottle down by the inside wall?? Wow…………………….


So she finished in the top ten. Was there a free pass somewhere and how many cautions did it take? I saw Janet “race” and she didn’t have the car that Danica does. When Janet finished in the top 10 it was a surprise to everybody for a different reason.

I see Johnson is doing his angry-at-Chad act again. It would seem the experimental parts for the race didn’t work and won’t be used again. By the time the chase rolls around it will be business as usual for the 48.

The only person who wants double-file restarts is Brian. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to change. There are lots of options for restarts but won’t be considered. I know 43 cars strung out at Martinsville and Bristol isn’t good for the drivers. That’s why I think they should cut the number to 32 or 34 like at other short tracks. That’s another can of worms but NASCAR put themselves in that position with the 43 car rule. Brian doesn’t believe in quality over quantity. He needs to get out of the vault more.

Tim S.

Don, I can see it now. We’ll get fed lots of tripe about “monumental struggles for the 48 team” if they go three or four races without a win, and then when they do win again, it’ll be “off the radar and left for dead, ol’ six-time comes roaring back.” Only the comically gullible or people getting paid to report it really believe the 48 team is in any kind of real trouble.


At least they haven’t figured out how to screw up Martinsville yet. That’s when we know the end is coming.
Even Bristol and Richmond aren’t the same, because of Bruton screwing up Bristol and both tracks’ fall races leading up to the Chase have largely turned into don’t race anybody hard events.

Tim S.

Agreed. Richmond in recent years is just a lowercase Dull D. Once they changed Bristol the first time, they should’ve just let it be instead of trying to change it back and messing it up even more.


I would believe Nascar’s sincerity if they took tires from EVERY TEAM. Why are they not doing that? If tire “manipulation” is cheating and they take from a few, doesn’t mean the one’s they DON”T take from are not doing it. I find it very interesting who’s tires HAVE NOT been taken so far. Nascar is so screwy.


Some people in the media and diehard Danica fans confuse attrition with merit. It is amazing to me and it should not be how much attention this women got for “attaining” Janet’s record. Tis true she did, but it really does not tell the true story, not one bit, and it is a very misleading honor, if you look at the actual numbers and compare. But hey, sell, sell, sell. Watching her for all of a few seconds in the media center (which I was truly shocked to see), she still not a humble person, not one bit. Entitled and deserving it looked like to me. At that point I turned off my computer and went about my business.


For anyone interested I checked a few stats for Janet and the NASCAR female diva.

Janet finished eleventh 5 times and twelfth 3 times. That’s 13 top 12s in 33 races.

Janet’s average start was 19.9 and finish 19.3.

The diva’s average start is 26.9 and finish 24.9.

I wonder how Janet would have done if she had the 10 car to drive, even now. She just turned 77.


Interesting stats, thanks for them. I often think I’d like to see what another female driver would be able to do in the 10 car. I would bet that Janet would be pretty good if she had the same opportunity at Danica’s age.


Thanks!!!!! More reality and perspective!


For more perspective, Guthrie never raced in a 43 car field either (much less a field that had 20 cars capable of winning), so the top 10 comparison isn’t relevant across different eras of the sport.

Guthrie’s top finish of 6th occurred at the fall Bristol race in 1977. She was 3 laps down and there were 15 cars running at the finish. 29 cars started the race, so I don’t think average starting/finishing position is relevant when the average number of cars entered in a race is that different. Maybe someone with more time on their hands can calculate where they averaged relative to the field, which would be a more accurate comparison.


they also didn’t have lucky dogs and wave around rules. I know that it is difficult to compare different time periods in racing and no I’m not even going to attempt to do the math involved.


Seems Hamlin played that pit road bs. the best, that was stupid and Nascar should address it. Always something.


At our local NA$CAR sanctioned short track after a yellow they bring out a cone. If you go to the outside of the cone you start on the outside lane, if you go to the inside you start on the inside. Why not adopt this?

Bill B

If they must have double file restarts at Martinsville then that would be a somewhat fairer option. At least the driver would have an option. Personally this inside vs outside lane on restarts is an issue at several tracks but none more obvious than Martinsville. Something is definitely wrong when a driver is better off in 7th, 9th, 11th or 13th than 6th place on a restart.

Unfortunately NASCAR’s answer to the questionable racing package is to basically just call a bunch of cautions and put all their money on wowing fans on the double file restarts. For the most part, there are only two ways drivers gain positions anymore, restarts and pit stops.


but, but Bill B, don’t you know? That makes it exciting. Mark Howell will probably tell all of us who think NASCAR manipulates the rules that we should find another sport to watch.

Tim S.

Aw, Bill, Gina, quit your whining or go somewhere else. The competition is better now than it’s ever been in the history of sanctioned motorsports. Double file restarts are always awesome. There’s more variety among cars, tracks, and..oh, wait… never mind that. Just check the loop data and the NASCAR Wire Service. Nothing else to see. Yum, this is my favorite flavor. Thanks, France family!


Ha! Yeah just ask NASCAR, they’ll tell us how wonderful it all is!

I’ve always liked the red flavored kool aid the best!


I’ve seen at tracks where the first four cars are single file and lead lap cars double up from five back. That could work at Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond. But any change would mean a change in Brian’s rule change and we know the chances of that.

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