The Frontstretch: Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martinsville-2 Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday October 29, 2012

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Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martinsville-2 Recap

Mike Neff · Monday October 29, 2012


Key Moment – During the pit stops for a lap 476 caution, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed out while Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and the rest of the lead lap cars came in for two tires. Johnson restarted behind Keselowski and worked him over for four laps before taking the lead for good. In the end, Keselowski ended up about where he would have finished with tires, while some of the other top contenders on the day ended up falling back to unsatisfying results.

In a Nutshell – Jimmie Johnson owned Martinsville from the Fall of 2003 through 2009, but his last few races there have been less than dominating. On Sunday, he made a statement that he is the man to beat in the Chase and that Martinsville is still his house as much as anyone else’s.

For Jimmie Johnson, Sunday’s race proved that he is the man to beat in the Chase and that he is still a master at Martinsville.

Dramatic Moment – Denny Hamlin was poised to make a second dramatic, come-from-behind win on the weekend as he rebounded from pit road penalties to have himself poised for a run at the win. Instead of taking home a second grandfather clock in as many days, he suffered a debilitating electrical malfunction that not only ended his bid for a win, but eliminated him from Championship contention.

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

Denny Hamlin was a title contender for six races in the Chase. Coming into Martinsville, he had to feel like he’d leave in great position to race the final three events for the Championship. Instead, a fluke electrical issue ended his race and his title chase on one of his best race tracks.

Brad Keselowski’s average finish at Martinsville coming into this weekend’s race was 13.4. He was in the lead of the race with 15 laps to go and came home with a sixth-place finish. Although he’s leaving the second-oldest track on the circuit behind in the points for the first time since New Hampshire in the Chase, he has proven that he’s no fluke in this title battle and he’s going to be there until the end.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to competition with a full-on assault on Martinsville. Although he didn’t lead a lap and ended up with a 21st-place finish (thanks to a late-race dustup with Carl Edwards), the legions of fans in Junior Nation have to be glad that the No. 88 was back in the hands of Earnhardt this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to competition this week at Martinsville after a two-week break as he recovered from a concussion.

Clint Bowyer and Brian Pattie were both visibly disappointed in the result of the race at Martinsville this weekend. It speaks volumes about where Michael Waltrip Racing is when the driver and crew chief of their flagship car at this point in the season are upset because they thought they should have won the race instead of being thrilled with a top-five finish.

The race wasn’t a sellout, but the stands were 95% full shortly after the green flag dropped on Sunday. Martinsville Speedway is nestled in the hills of Virginia rather far from any major metropolis, but it is still one of the best places to see a stock car race on the planet.

Although it isn’t Cup-related, racing lost another future star this weekend when Tyler Wolf was killed in a sprint car wreck in California. It is a stark reminder that, no matter how safe the equipment is, racing is still a dangerous sport and the worst can and, sometimes, does happen.

Brian Vickers inked another contract with Michael Waltrip racing and proceeded to go out and have another great run in the No. 55. Although he’s only a part-time driver in the MWR family, Vickers continues to put on shows when they stick him behind the wheel of the car. You have to think that he’ll get a full-time ride at some point if Mikey can ever sell a sponsor on the idea.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Number one on the list this week, without a doubt, was Denny Hamlin. He comes into one of his best tracks within shouting distance of the top of the points and he leaves more than a full race behind. To add to the abuse, it was supposedly a post that fell off of the master switch that derailed his strong run toward the finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was looking to make a triumphant return from his two-week concussion recovery stint out of the No. 88. He ran in the top 10 for the vast majority of the race only to go for a loop off of the front bumper of the No. 99 with nine laps to go. Although it wasn’t Edwards’ fault (he was bumped from behind by another competitor), it was still a very disappointing end to what could have been a storybook day for Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports.

Kevin Harvick was sporting a Chasing the Cure paint scheme this weekend, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. He started 13th and fell back into the 20s early in the race. He clawed and scratched his way back into the top 10 before his engine done blowed up. A 32nd-place finish was a letdown for both the team and the cause.

Carl Edwards hasn’t had much to smile about in 2012. Martinsville was looking like it just might smile on him for a change and give him a decent finish, until he was hit from behind heading into turn one and spun himself and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Not only was Edwards’ day ruined, but now he’s going to get hate mail on green stationary for the next 10 years.

”The Seven Come For Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Aric Almirola had a great run at Kansas that went south in a hurry. He had a run that was in the toilet at Martinsville for most of the day but turned the corner right before the finish and ended up with a top-five run. The No. 43 team “changed everything they could change on the car” according to Almirola after the race. Then a late-race call for two tires by crew chief Todd Parrot gave them track position and the typical beating and banging at the end of the race afforded Almirola a fourth-place finish in his Gwaltney-sponsored car. Hopefully, there will be some sort of ‘free bologna Friday’ promotion in celebration.

In a move that happened more than once at Martinsville on Sunday, Kyle Busch spun around and didn’t hit anything hard enough to do any damage to his car. He battled back from a spot in the 30s to come home in second place. Although it wasn’t a win, the results could have been vastly different if he’d drilled the outside wall when he went for a loop.

Greg Biffle and Sam Hornish both started deep in the field with Brad Keselowski. Both soldiered their way to the front by the end of the race. Biffle finished 10th and Hornish crossed the line in 13th. Although grandfather clocks, or even wrist watches, are not awarded for such finishes, both drivers can be pleased to have battled through the minefield that is Martinsville and brought home strong finishes.

Chevrolet notched its 699th victory in the sport and clinched the manufacturer’s title for the 10th year in a row on Sunday. The bowtie brigade has long been the standard in the Cup series and this is just another notch in their belt of long, storied success in stock car racing and auto racing in general.

Worth Noting

*Jimmie Johnson notched his 59th career victory in 396 starts. His winning percentage is 14.9% which ranks him eighth on the all-time list of drivers with at least 100 starts. Johnson is the only active driver in the top 12 on the list; Jeff Gordon is 13th.

*Chevrolet has notched 699 wins in the Cup series over its career. GM as a company has 1,034. Ford has 712 with Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln. Chrysler has 466 with Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler. Toyota has scored 49 wins in their short time in the sport.

*Johnson’s win is his fourth this season. He has 17 top-5s and 23 top-10s in 33 races this season.

*The win is Johnson’s seventh at Martinsville, his fifth in the Fall race, and his 19th top-10 at the track.

*The victory is Hendrick Motorsports 207th win all-time and eighth win this season. It is their 19th win at Martinsville and 12th win in the Fall race.

*The second-place finish for Kyle Busch was his 10th for 2012 and 17th top-10 for the year. He has seven top-5s and eight top-10s all-time at Martinsville.

*Kasey Kahne’s third-place was his 11th top-5 and 18th top-10 of the season. Kahne has two top-5s and three top-10s all-time at Martinsville. Kahne has more DNFs (4) than top-10s at Martinsville.

*Stephen Leicht was the highest-finishing rookie, finishing in 34th place.

*Almirola’s top-5 finish is his second top-5 finish of his career and first this season. It is his second top-10 of the year.

*Clint Bowyer’s fifth-place finish marked the ninth time this year he’s come home in the top 5. It is his 21st top-10 finish. This is the second top-5 of Bowyer’s career at Martinsville and eighth top 10.

*Bobby Labonte crossed the line in ninth place today for his second top-10 finish of the season. It is his 14th career top 10 at Martinsville.

What’s the Points?

Brad Keselowski has led the point standings since Dover (which means he led for almost the entire month of October). However, his sixth-place finish today drops him two points behind Johnson in the run for the title. Two points is still a mere pittance no matter how you look at it; so heading into the final three races, the Chase is still either of the frontrunners’ to lose.

Denny Hamlin’s foul fortune not only kept him from competing for the win this weekend at Martinsville, it has KO’d his hopes for landing a championship in 2012. Hamlin is now 49 points out of the top spot and in fifth place in the overall point standings.

Clint Bowyer finished in fifth place, but that dropped him further behind Johnson and still too far back to think he has a realistic shot at the main table in Vegas. Certainly, 26 points out isn’t a death sentence; but when you have to leap-frog two people who are competing at the top of their game (Johnson and Keselowski), it is just too long of a row to hoe.

Kasey Kahne scored a top-5 at a track where he almost never does and vaulted himself into the fourth spot in the point standings. Like Bowyer, it is too little too late. For now, the only point battle Kahne has on his hands is whether he can beat Bowyer for a podium finish in the points.

The rest of the Chasers are just squirrels trying to find a nut at this point in time. They can obviously win races and take home a big fake check on any given weekend, but their title hopes have long been out the door. The only interesting development would be if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. somehow managed to overtake Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart for a spot above 12th over the final three races. That would be a true slap in the face to either of the other drivers, since Earnhardt was on the sidelines for two races.

Overall Rating (from one to six beers, with one being a total snoozer and a six-pack an A+ effort): On scales of Martinsville classics this was hardly an epic race. Although there were 11 caution flags for 64 laps, there were no serious incidents in which cars ended up driving around with a fender pointing to the sky or both front quarter panels removed so the car looked like a modified. The race did, however, contain a lot of intrigue from a racing standpoint. There were 22 lead changes among nine drivers and many of them actually took place on the track. Hamlin’s miscues on pit road, his charges back through the pack, and then his ultimate demise most assuredly added some edge of the seat moments to the racing action. The intensity on the track picked up markedly during the last 50 laps. Cars were moved out of the way on numerous occasions during the final five laps, with some good cars coming home with less-than-anticipated finishes because they were pushed up and out of the groove. Adding to the score is the fact that it is Martinsville, the only track still on the schedule that was contested the very first year of the sport and the most unique track in the Chase, it deserves four cans of savory adult beverage and one dozen Jesse Jones Hotdogs. Let’s hope we’ll see more short tracks in the Chase in the future.

Next Up The series heads to the final Intermediate quad-oval on the schedule for the year. The track that laid claim to the fastest track on the circuit title for several years is now just one of the quick ones. What we can look forward to at the end on Sunday is a driver who is not anywhere close to a cowboy wearing a large, goofy looking hat and firing off blank rounds of ammunition in an attempt to make themselves look cool in said goofy hat. It will most likely be a great race because the surface is smooth but abrasive, tires make a difference and, in the end, the battle for the season title will probably have the last two contestants standing looking each other in the eye most of the weekend.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
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10/29/2012 10:13 AM

heh…. 4 cans….
held up to the light of what one would normally expect of a martinsville race run with a decent car i suppose that’s only slightly exaggerated. in the light of the crap we’ve had to fast forward through on our dvrs this year it was a full sixpack with tequila shooters.

awww shucks
10/29/2012 10:39 AM

Carl Edwards did nothing wrong other than receive the chrome horn from none other than Sam Hornish. Carl won’t get the hate mail. Just Sam showcasing why he isn’t the man for the 22

10/29/2012 12:21 PM

95% full?? I’m sure I saw almost all the backstretch covered over with tarps or whatever they use?

10/29/2012 12:30 PM

Martinsville and other “1-grove” tracks are the only places where I detest double-file restarts. I wish they would allow some kind of lane selection for the first few rows.

Laidback Racing
10/29/2012 01:00 PM

ok I like Marty alot but 95% full??? come on now. back stretch covered by tarps, turns 4 and turn one grandstands about half empty…just saying…

Mike Neff
10/29/2012 01:10 PM

Hey EZRider714. The backstretch stands have been out of the seat count for years at Martinsville. Of the seats that you are able to purchase, 95% of them were filled when the seats were at their fullest.

Laidback – I may have had a slightly distorted view from the infield but there is no way that the turn four and turn one stands were only half full. They were at least 90% full at the 25 lap mark. It did thin out late in the race because the temperature dropped but the place was very full.

10/29/2012 02:06 PM

My family and I were supposed to be there but Hurricane Sandy forced us to cancel our plans to get there.

I love the little paperclip – it’s my favorite track on the circuit. Wish I could have seen the race in person. The one groove aspect is frustrating though because if you are on the outside on a restart, your goose is effectively cooked.

I agree, the backstretch seats have been covered for several years.

I still don’t like the chase, I’m never going to. I didn’t watch much of the race on TV. I had a tweet from one of the ESPN announcers when I protested that they skipped over Gordon’s 10th place finish wherever it was they raced before Martinsville to talk about Hamlin’s finishing 13th. He said that only the 2, 48 and 11 were “important” now. Well, gee, that makes me feel just like tuning in to ESPN for more races! Not.

So i spent the weekend preparing my house to ride out the storm and followed the race via trackpass/radio without turning on the TV. I am really giving a lot of thought to cancelling my cable – I really don’t need to pay for ESPN considering their attitude toward the fans. Actually I feel that way about Fox, too.

10/29/2012 02:26 PM

I wonder how well these Chase guys would be doing each week if the Non-Chasers were actually allowed to race them. Seriously, there is only 12 drivers racing out there. The other 30 are riding around waiting for the season to end trying to stay out of the Chasers way….and you want to compete with the NFL with that?

I know this isn’t a critique of the race, but that coverage was gawd awful yesterday. Was anyones else racing besides the 6 or so chosen ones? Sure didn’t look like it on tv.

I never thought I would say this but Nascar is even making Martinsville boring. This series needs an overhaul in a hurry. Maybe they can hire Randy Bernard to help. And I thought the powers that be at Nascar were idiots, the Indy Car board makes Brian France look intlligent

10/29/2012 03:03 PM

I used to be able to count on the short tracks for the best racing but the current points/chase system has turned even those tracks into snoozers.

Drivers are so ultra-conservative in their driving and in their interviews. Everything has a flat-line feeling to it. The LIFE has been taken out of nascar.

I can no longer count on Martinsville, Bristol, or Richmond to provide the type of racing I grew up watching. And it’s sad.

bill sprehe
10/30/2012 01:08 PM

Couldn’t agree more with Penny! The life HAS been sucked out of NASCAR
racing. Do they ask themselves WHY?
Twelve radioactive cars among thirty other cars. They sell that as stock car racing? At least the WWE doesn’t try to avoid reality. There should be a visible “sense of urgency” all season long for the entire field of cars.


Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Special Winter Sprint Car Series set for January debut at Cocopah Speedway
Beyond the Cockpit with Ben Rhodes
Kroger 250 postponed until Sunday afternoon
Denny Hamlin out of the car for the race at Auto Club Speedway

Want to find out more about Mike Neff? Maybe see all the articles he's written here at the Frontstetch? Check out his article archive and bio page then!