Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Kyle Larson Pulls a Grandfather Clock Out of His Hat at Martinsville

Who … should you be talking about after the race?

It took 17 races, countless laps on iRacing and just the right strategy on Sunday (April 16), but Kyle Larson can now scratch Martinsville Raceway off his “still need to win” list as he passed Joey Logano with just over 20 laps to go to win his first grandfather clock.

A two-tire stop on what would be the day’s final caution gave Larson the best track position he’d had all day. Logano didn’t make it easy; the two went door-to-door for multiple laps before Larson was finally able to get by in a classic short-track battle. From there on, it was smooth sailing as Larson cruised to the checkers.

It’s the 28th win at Martinsville for team owner Rick Hendrick, whose first victory at the track in April 1984 came at the 11th hour as Hendrick planned to shutter his operation as sponsorship failed to materialize — until Geoffrey Bodine put HMS on the map. The win brought new interest in the fledgling team, and Hendrick would go on to build one of the most successful operations in NASCAR.

And don’t forget Chase Briscoe. Overshadowed by the return of another Chase, Chase Elliott, Briscoe scored his second top-five start in a row at Martinsville and turned it into his third consecutive top 10 and first career top five after leading a career-high 109 laps. And had it not been for JJ Yeley‘s lap 343 crash, he might have the clock.

Racing with a broken middle finger (he’ll have surgery Monday morning but wanted to get through this race first), Briscoe, who has quietly run very well at Martinsville recently, didn’t have to rely as much on strategy for track position as he had to race to maintain and improve it.

Briscoe didn’t make a big mistake like teammate Ryan Preece, capitalizing on the speed that all four Stewart-Haas Racing entries displayed over the weekend. Briscoe ran solid laps, made the right moves at the right time (including knowing when to use the old chrome horn) and made smart decisions to bring his No. 14 home in fifth spot. 

What … is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

All weekend long, talk swirled about Chase Elliott’s return to the driver’s seat: would he be able to run the whole race? Could he be competitive?

The answer to both questions was a resounding yes; Elliott didn’t qualify well, starting 24th, but he worked his way forward and his team used good calls to help Elliott take home a top-10 run with his 10th-place finish.

Returning at Martinsville was a gutsy call; the track is tough to race, and beating and banging is a given. And with Talladega next up, where massive crashes are the norm and not the exception, nobody would have blamed Elliott if he had decided to sit out a couple more weeks.

Now that he’s back, the question naturally becomes whether he’ll win a race and make the playoffs; with the time lost, getting in on points is all but a lost cause. NASCAR has granted Elliott a waiver for the races he sat out, so he’s eligible if he wins and he showed Sunday that he’s competitive. Wins are never a given, but Elliott raced on Sunday like he barely missed a beat, so as he regains stamina, he’ll only get stronger. There’s a strong possibility he’ll be in the running for a second title come fall.

See also
Kyle Larson Spoils Dominant Day for Stewart-Haas Racing at Martinsville

Where … did the other key players wind up?

Pole winner Preece drove a nearly flawless first stage and much of the second one as well. He had the fastest car in the field, and his race setup was as on point as his qualifying run had been. Until he made one mistake: he sped on pit road.

Winning the pole at Martinsville used to be a major advantage in the pits. Pit road is so tight that whoever had the first box only had to worry about speed coming in, because that pit stall was virtually at the end of pit road. But with the Cup field cut from 43 to 40, the track eliminated three unneeded pit stalls — including that first one. There’s now just enough distance to the last timing line that a driver can get himself in trouble, and that’s exactly what dashed Preece’s hopes.

He restarted at the back of the pack and spent all day trying to make up track position. Moving through the field proved much harder than it was previously for just about everyone who found themselves mired near the back. Preece recovered to 15th, but the shorter 400-mile distance of the spring race meant there was no time for more. 

Defending spring Martinsville winner William Byron had plenty of speed all weekend, and at times looked like he was putting himself in position to make a play for the win, but the competition knew he was fast and did their best to pinch him on the outside or in three-wide situations whenever they could. A late vibration and lots of on-track contact relegated Byron to 23rd at the end.

Cup champ Joey Logano has been almost a lock for a top-10 or better finish at Martinsville in recent years, but a fluid leak in his car, discovered Sunday morning, almost ended a seven-race top-10 streak.

Fixing the leak meant starting in the back, and Logano was one of the first drivers to learn that a fast car didn’t necessarily translate into quickly moving through those slower cars at the rear. Logano lost a lap in the first stage, got the free pass at the end of that stage, then lost another one as he toiled in the bottom 10. 

Luckily for Logano, a caution for Alfredo’s lost wheel came at the perfect time, as most of the field had just made a green-flag pit stop. Logano, back on the lead lap thanks to those stops, hadn’t pitted yet and was able to make his stop under yellow, putting him in the top five. And once there, he made it stick.

He was the leader on the final restart and while Larson got by him after a fierce back-and-forth, Logano held on to finish second, maintaining his top-10 streak and showing the kind of racing that has made him a two-time champion: capitalizing on the situation at hand.

When … was the moment of truth?

It wasn’t the first race of the year with the short track package for the Cup cars (that came over a month ago at Phoenix Raceway), but it might have been the biggest test. Tiny, tight, flat-as-a-pancake Martinsville has long been a fan favorite and last year’s events were, overall, a let-down. If not for Ross Chastain’s last-lap, last-ditch effort in the fall race, the season at NASCAR’s oldest racetrack might have been entirely forgettable.

Sunday’s race was absolutely an improvement. There was good racing through the field.

There’s still room for more; the drivers said that from the start. The leader’s advantage is still hard to overcome, and it was still too hard for a fast car to work its way through the field. Preece had the fastest car for much of the day but made no headway after a speeding penalty, and he was far from the only one. Logano’s finish was boosted by his strategy, but he made little progress after starting in the back after the team made changes before the race.

But all in all, while people will point to the margin of victory as proof the race wasn’t exciting, the battle for the win between Larson and Logano was fantastic … it just happened 25 laps or so too early. If it had been the last five laps, fans would be calling it a classic.

See also
Chase Overcomes Injury To Nearly Win Martinsville ... Briscoe That Is

Why … should you be paying attention this week?

After three weeks racing on NASCAR’s shortest tracks, it’s off to the fastest: Talladega Superspeedway. That’s a huge shift and a huge mental transition for drivers as well. Short tracks require judicious use of the bumper and sometimes patience is in short supply. Talladega requires infinite patience and bumper action is limited to pushing the car in front.

And even if everyone plays nice, it’s a long, exhausting race and even the slightest mistake can cost upwards of 10 drivers a chance at victory. Sometimes, it’s double that number. It’s equal parts racing and roulette, and never was the saying “it’s better to be lucky than good’ truer than it is at ‘Dega.

The upside is that superspeedways are an equalizer in terms of the racecars, so a driver who has the patience and concentration to finesse a car within inches for hours can have a great day, even in a car that’s not often a factor. If you like unpredictability, it’s the race for you. If you like carnage, then it’s definitely likely you’ll get your fill of that.

How … come it took so long to throw a caution for Alfredo’s tire?

A loose wheel on the No. 78 following the final scheduled green-flag stop ruined Alfredo’s day, but it could have been so much worse. The entire wheel sat on the racing surface in turn 2 for at least two full laps before NASCAR threw the caution.

That’s a long time; tires are heavy and had someone tagged it, it could have caused major damage. Had it bounced into the air, it could have affected multiple cars.

Sure, a caution that falls during a round of green-flag stops affects the race, but so would a major incident. The tire wasn’t going to roll anywhere off the racing surface; had it rolled, it would have been into oncoming race traffic.

There are times when waiting to throw a yellow makes sense — a car that brushes the wall and keeps going with major debris may not need one. But the wheel wasn’t going anywhere, it was a danger to the drivers (and possibly even fans), and waiting was only delaying the inevitable while putting people at risk.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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What ? hendricknascar wins again – 6 chevrolet wins, 2 toyota wins, 1 ford win, parity achieved !

Kevin in SoCal

You thought the race was good, and your colleagues at “Thinking Out Loud” thought the race was bad. (shrug)


ha ha ha, you thought this was a good race? Must have been watching something different than I did.

Last edited 5 months ago by wildcats2016