Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Kyle Busch Returns to Championship Form, Conquers Martinsville

Who’s in the headlineKyle Busch went from winless at Martinsville to a two-time winner in one weekend. He dominated the race, leading 352 of the race’s 500 laps. It was the most by a race winner at the short track since Bobby Hamilton won the event in 1998.

Busch chose the inside line for the final restart of the race with 11 laps to go. He pulled away to the lead and was never really threatened by runner-up AJ Allmendinger over the final 10 circuits.

Kyle Busch Victory Lane Trophy and Confetti Martinsville 2016 Cup Mike Neff
Kyle Busch took home the checkers in dominating fashion on Sunday. (Credit: Mike Neff)

What happenedJoey Logano started on the pole and led the first 21 laps. Unfortunately, once his handling started to go away, he fell back into the pack and was never a factor the rest of the day. Paul Menard had a strong run all day, leading 10 laps and coming home with an eighth-place finish. Kevin Harvick led twice for the second most laps, but was shuffled out of contention on a lat- race restart and finished with a disappointing 17th-place run. Matt Kenseth led three different times for a total of 45 laps but was hung on the outside on the same late-race restart and crossed the line in an equally disappointing 15th. While he didn’t lead, Allmendinger equaled a career-best oval track finish with a runner-up run.

Why you should care – In 2015, Busch had to run very conservatively when he came back from his injury to avoid poor point finishes that could have knocked him out of the Chase. With one win in the books already, he can take more risks now and potentially crank out more victories to add to his career total of 35.

The strength that Allmendinger has shown the last couple of weeks also gives hope to the little guys. The possibility is very real that he could point his way into the title Chase if he continues on this positive run.

What your friends are talking about

Brian Vickers has one more scheduled race in the No. 14 car for Tony Stewart. After that point, he is unsure what the future holds. There are discussions and rumors that he may run the Indianapolis 500. Depending on Stewart’s return, he could run another race or two for Stewart-Haas Racing. While it is hard to have an uncertain future, a driver who didn’t have a ride before Stewart’s ATV accident is happy with whatever he is offered.

Catanzareti: Brian Vickers Happy to Be Back in Contention After Rough Road

Denny Hamlin is in favor of posting race purses again as part of the box score from events. Many drivers contracts used to be tied to a percentage of the purse. When the charter system debuted, they had their contracts reworked to accommodate the new scale. Drivers now know what everyone is getting, so there isn’t much of a reason to keep it from the fans. NASCAR has stated they are reviewing the policy.

There was a fire at the Richard Petty Museum this week, but it was quickly contained and the damage to the property was minimal. The Petty family issued a statement that they were very grateful for the first responders who took care of the situation so rapidly and professionally.

With all of the buzz around the Concussion movie with Will Smith and the recent suicides of several professional football players, the occurrence of people donating their brains to research after they pass away is increasing for those athletes who have sustained concussions during their career. The first driver in NASCAR to join the growing list is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He missed a pair of races in 2012 thanks to multiple concussions that season.

Forbes released their annual rankings of NASCAR teams and drivers based on estimated earnings. There was no surprise that Hendrick Motorsports, with an estimated $375 million in total asset value, topped the list. At the bottom was BK Racing, which was valued at an estimated $24 million last year. Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson were the top earning drivers with $23.5 million and $22.2 million, respectively.

Who is mad – Kenseth ran near the front all day and worked with his teammate Busch on multiple restarts to keep the duo up front throughout the race. With 11 laps to go, Busch took the inside lane and Allmendinger kept Kenseth outside as the field circulated for the first couple of laps after the restart. In the end, Kenseth could not get down in line until he fell all of the way back to the mid-teens and scored yet another disappointing finish this season.

Clint Bowyer started 30th and finished 15th, three laps down. When the checkered flag flew, he was out of his car, across the track and on the road home before Busch pulled his car into Victory Lane. The season has not started well for Bowyer’s single-year effort with HScott Motorsports. It is obvious that he’s far from pleased with how things are progressing so far.

Earnhardt qualified poorly and was back in the pack when the green flag flew. On Lap 5, David Ragan got into his left-rear tire and sent the No. 88 car for a loop. Earnhardt went a lap down in the subsequent green-flag run and had to battle almost the entire day to get back on the lead lap. He was finally the Lucky Dog on the fifth caution of the day on Lap 313. He was running lap times consistent with the leaders most of the race, but could never get the proper track position. In the end, he came home 14th with a car that seemed capable of much more.

Who is happy – Allmendinger is obviously quite pleased with the start to his season. He has back-to-back top 10s and now a top 5 this year. His best season ever saw two top 5s (twice). His average finish is 14.8, which is the best of his career to date. Things are gelling well with his first-year crew chief Randall Burnett, and he very well could be in contention for the title after Richmond this fall.

Kyle Larson has struggled to replicate his fabulous first full season in Sprint Cup from 2014, when he had eight top 5s, 17 top 10s and finished 17th in points. He has shown some speed early this season with new crew chief Chad Johnston. If he’s able to finally break into Victory lane this season, the rumblings of best driver without a win could go away and the potential for championship runs might finally be realized.

Austin Dillon continues to show strength in his No. 3 car this season. Sunday, he scored his second top five of the season, the most he has had in any of his full seasons in Cup. He has run strong on mile and a half tracks for his entire career, but a top 10 at Phoenix and a top 10 again at Martinsville bodes well for a return to Victory Lane by the Richard Childress Racing organization.

When the checkered flag flew:

Kyle Busch scored his 35th victory of his career on Sunday which keeps him in 21st on the all-time list. He is one win behind Matt Kenseth for the top 20.

Busch is also fourth among active drivers behind Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kenseth.

This was Busch’s first win at Martinsville in the Cup series.

This is his first triumph of 2016.

Busch led the most laps in his win since Bobby Hamilton led 378 in April of 1998.

AJ Allmendinger crossed the line in second. That ties his best career oval finish and is second only to his win at Watkins Glen.

Allmendinger is tied for 123rd on the all-time runner-up list with two.

This is Allmendinger’s second career second place run at Martinsville.

This is the best finish of the season for Allmendinger in 2016.

Kyle Larson came home in third place for the first podium run of the season.

Larson has finished in the top 3 seven times in his career.

This is the first finish better than 19th at Martinsville in five attempts for Larson.

Ryan Blaney was 19th, the highest finishing rookie, and was awarded the Rookie of the Race.

What is in the cooler – It can be difficult to give a great rating to a race that saw one driver lead 70% of the laps. However, the racing in the pack on Sunday was exceptional and the tire fall-off allowed drivers to have strength early or late in runs. As a result drivers were coming and going throughout the event and strategy ultimately played a role. It wasn’t a barn burner but it was a solid race that deserves four cold Foothills Brewing Seeing Double IPAs.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – Back to a mile and a half track next week as the series heads to the Lone Star state for the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The race is Saturday night at 7:30. It can be seen on Fox. It can be heard on local PRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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It might be time to revisit and perhaps go back to the old restart rules at Martinsville. Besides the games exiting pit road, something isn’t right when the 9th place car has an advantage over the 2nd place car on a restart.

Bill B

Been complaining about that since the double files were put into effect. There are other tracks where the outside line has a ridiculous advantage. If it were up to me we’d go back to lapped cars in one lane, lead lap cars in the other. Of course that doesn’t have the probability of creating those game 7, crapshoot moments as much as the current restart process does. Who cares if it’s unfair to the competitors, it’s all about manufacturing excitement.

bud sudz

Since they can run Heat Races and monkey with qualifying at certain tracks, why not run the Commitment Cone at Martinsville? It would certainly add some strategy at the end of the race.

Bill B

Never a dull moment at Martinsville. The only gripe I have about the race is that one caution that allowed Jr to get the lucky dog. I don’t have a problem with Jr getting a lucky dog but that was a bogus caution as there was no contact and no debris.


Are you implying that Hendrick cars seem to get phantom cautions when they need them? There’s been no evidence to support that, has there?

Bill B

No Don, I went out of my way not to imply that the fake cautions benefit any one team. I see the trend as NASCAR wants to throw cautions as often as possible to, one, manufacture excitement, and two, keep as many cars on the lead lap as possible. Because if there are more cars on the lead lap then more fans’ drivers are still in contention and therefore will continue to watch, competition be damned. I do agree however, that getting NASCAR’s most popular driver back on the lead lap has the biggest bang for the buck.


You mean the fake caution where the car that spun never even came to a complete stop before the caution was out? Damn , was that obvious.


Boy, when you guys at Frontstretch screw things up, you really screw up! It is one thing that comments cannot be viewed, now, even Internet Explorer blocks your site because an author has columns on more than one site. You cannot access any of the columns due to cross posting. Wow! Way to go!

Bill B

I can’t believe the comments issue isn’t a big deal because I’d be surprised if it isn’t affecting the number of visitors to the website. I know that my visits to the website have declined since I can’t see comments half the time. It gets so annoying after a while that I just give up. Who needs more aggravation in their life.


Amen Bill. Kind of like my feelings about na$car


I can’t believe it either, and you, I think, nailed it about the decline in traffic. This latest issue though is a real mind blower! What happened to me with Internet explorer blocking access to Frontstretch happened when I tried to access a Frontstretch article through Jayski. The message that came up was, “Internet Explorer has modified this page to prevent cross-posting scripting”. I don’t know if it was because the articles were misplaced or what. It just happened again when an article from Dave Moody was listed as being through Frontstretch. It all works fine through Firefox. I am as surprized as you and everyone else who has commented on this situation that someone at Frontstretch has not offered any explanation about what is going on. Maybe they, Frontstretch, are getting ready to shut down their comment sections?


I’ve been getting site certificate pop-ups for this site (The only one) this week which is a new thing long with the usual comment section issue. Like Bill B I too have curbed my visits to this site as its pretty painful to figure out if there are any comments and/or actually trying to post a comment. The really big letdown is the lack of any feedback from the Frontstretch staff as in the past (past seasons) I’ve e-mailed a few of them on various technical issues and always received a response. Did ownership of this site change hands over the off-season? Heck, maybe they trying to fix the issue but from an outsiders viewpoint this issue appears to be handled like NASCAR handles issues.

Capt Spaulding

might be “Jerry Jordan Revenge,” since he is no longer here.


Ken, I didn’t think about it until you put it out there but I certainly hope that Frontstretch doesn’t ever shut down the comments section as I find the comments to be half the fun of this site. I like to read different viewpoints people have related to the articles.


I thought there was a rule that cars had to stay in line during pit stops. During the caution around lap 300, Johnson was following the 47 down pit road. He pulled even before his pits and then accelerated into his pit. He gained two spots. There couldn’t be an advantage to the pit that Chad chooses, could there? Maybe this one is more advantageous the the one near the end of pit road that he used for a while. He does seem to improve his position during pit stops, especially near the end of the “race”.


You have a minor typo in your article – Bowyer finished 25th, not 15th.

I think drivers should get to choose the lane they restart in, going in order from 1st on back. I know some local short track racing is done like that. I believe NASCAR commented one time that doing it that way would be confusing, but it should at least be done at Martinsville and any other tracks where the outside lane is a huge disadvantage.

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