The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday April 8, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday April 8, 2013


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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04/08/2013 08:38 AM

Love this column, but this effort missed on so many levels:
First, if you’re going to rag Johnson for his pit stall, you need to rag “The Great #3’s” Career. Back in the day, the past year’s champion received second choice of pit stalls after the poll sitter. Earnhardt used this advantage to gain positions (as did the other champs) in several races as a 7-time champ.
Second, Danica didn’t use grit and determination to get back on the lead lap, but rather the made-for-TV wave around rule. Allowing 11 cars to make up laps by simply not pitting is a terrible rule that affects the outcome of a race worse than any other rule. To be fair, other drivers including Martin benefitted as well.
Third, Vickers was the victim of the first crash when Junior has a great reduction of speed coming off Turn #2. The other incidents were late race “rooting and gouging” which certainly beat single-file racing.
Fourth, considering Hamlin’s success and Martin’s lack of success (yes he’s won, but generally the paper clip has been his worst track) at Martinsville + the fact that Martin didn’t drive Martinsville last year = It’s not a bad thing for Hamlin to offer a little bit of advice to the veteran.
Finally, it’s actually pretty impressive that Ford put 3 cars in the Top 10 considering the awful performance overall by the brand during the race.x
This column could have been written by the Fox Broadcast Team. I visit Frontstretch, because I expect more.

04/08/2013 08:45 AM

Oh, and Johnson practically stopped in Turn 3, yet Junior still didn’t get it going.
The leader of the race is supposed to maintain speed, yet Johnson tried to cut him a favor. Had the 88 correctly executed a 180-degree semi-burnout instead of rolling down the track perpendicular to the field, he would have stayed on the lead lap. This one’s on the 88.

04/08/2013 08:52 AM

Auto Club Speedway was a better race than Martinsville…..WOW, did I just say that? Yes I did. And it was.

I can’t believe how boring Martinsville was. One groove and single file racing. Makes sense than MR. BORING himself would win there.

The FOX crew did their best before the race to sell it as possibly the best race EVER at Martinsville. But fell WAY short of that.

And it’s still hard to believe that Dale Jr. can’t do any better as a driver for the Hendrick/Nascar team. If you can’t do it there then you just can’t do it.

Carl D.
04/08/2013 09:39 AM

I watched the race. Not much to say about it; it was dominated by the #48 team. What else is new?

Somebody get that Nascar official a cane and a seeing-eye dog before he wanders into traffic. Or a referee shirt since he’s obviously qualified to be an SEC football official.

awww shucks
04/08/2013 10:20 AM

so sick of seeing Fox portray this Joey/Denny incident as intentional wreck to break Denny’s back. replay still shows denny tagged Joey’s right rear (same move as Bristol) but Joey was the one that was put into the outside wall. hey denny, live by the sword die by the sword. maybe YOU should have left well enough alone

04/08/2013 10:27 AM

Kenny did not spin Danica, and It was terrible watching FOX (and now you) try to make Kenny out to be a complete $&#%^!!

Danica tried to dive bomb a much slower car 15 laps into the race and spun herself out!!! Simple as that….

04/08/2013 11:00 AM

Thank You Ch

You are right Kenny did not hit Danica no matter how many times Mike Joy tried to rewrite yesterday. The fact is Danica it Kenny.

How did Danica get the first of her laps back after Carl Edwards spun around lap 240? When caution flew she was 28th 2 laps down, next ticker she was 25th 1 lap down. The booth did not say or show any wave arounds. I watched this 10-15 laps numerous times and I’m still stumped.

04/08/2013 11:06 AM

This has to be one of the more boring races I’ve ever watched at Martinsville. Wow, the California race was ten times more exciting. The last thing most viewers want to see is Johnson winning another Hendricks cup championship.

04/08/2013 11:32 AM

I have no problem with the #48 not letting the #88 get back into line. We would all be asking if Johnson had lost his mind if he had in fact slowed down and got punted in the rear by a trailing car while waiting for Jr. to get his act together.

Race lacked drama, tho’…did anyone doubt it was going to be the #48’s day after lap 100?

04/08/2013 12:14 PM

I dislike DW’s broadcasting as much as the next guy but you got what he said about Jr all wrong. DW said Jr was under the radar as the points leader and Jr liked that… as long as it didn’t last. As in…. if he gets credit for leading the points at some later date without the bruhaha in between, Jr will be happy.

Bill B
04/08/2013 12:55 PM

Not a Johnson fan but I love watching races at Martinsville. I think Fox does a terrible job of broadcasting most races and Martinsville is no exception.
California was a fluke, it had an exciting ending but long stretches where there wasn’t a lot of action. There is always action on the tiny Martinsville track.
I think this race gets points off just for the fact that Johnson dominated the race (and I agree). He probably had the best car. Had he not won the pole, the race would have been much more intereting because he wouldn’t have had that first pit stall and probably would have had to re-take the lead back after every pit stop.
Oh yeah, and double file restarts are so unfair at this track that it almost takes the fun out of it.

BTW, I think Danica was the first car 2 laps down when one of the cautions came out and there were no 1 lap down cars so she got the lucky dog. Then on a later caution she took the wave around. Now I’ve circled back around to Fox’s sucky coverage of the race. They sometimes have more important sponsor driven segments that get in the way of keeping fans informed of what’s happening in the race.

04/08/2013 01:07 PM

wcfan and Bill B, Danica took the wave-around twice. At one point she was the first car two laps down, but a bunch of cars were one lap down and so she took the wave-around. She then raced her way to being the second-placed car one lap down at a later caution, and so took the wave-around while the car in front of her got the Lucky Dog.

04/08/2013 01:26 PM

Did not watch the event as I figuired who would win and don’t care for any one who drives for Hendricks

04/08/2013 01:43 PM

Just watch Edwards spin again, and can not believe Danica is the only one who took wave around. Before caution 22nd-27th place 1 lap, Danica 28th place 2 laps down. After caution 22nd place still 1 lap down now Danica 25th 1 lap down and 28th still 2 laps down. Can not believe Danica was only car to take wave around, also can’t believe all lead lap cars pitted with only around 20 laps on tires.

04/08/2013 02:36 PM

Sure hope no ones got a full time ride for vickers in cup

04/08/2013 02:49 PM

Actually DW’s comment was probably correct. ‘Fraid Jr. will be more popular chasing a championship than after he’s won one.

04/08/2013 03:07 PM

yes wcfan, nascar minipulated the results to let Danica have a lap back. Never mind that millions of people online during the race are watching the very same timing and scoring. Ridiculous how much people can’t give danica any credit. If she was 2 laps down and everyone in front of her was 1 lap down, she took the wave around.

I have been harsh to the writers on this site for taking task with Danica almost weekly. As such I must commend them on acknowledging her good finish this week. Haters will hate, but those that actually have an open mind and watched her in Indy Cars know that she can drive. She just needs more experience.

And I personally have no problems with the wave around. You take a risk by not pitting hoping that you get another quick caution. You aren’t guaranteed to be back on the pit stop cycle. Unlike the lucky dog where you are actually handed a lap back.

Regarding FOX, talking about prime rib with Jeff Hammond while there is a pass for the lead and hearing one of the Waltrip brothers call Jr a closer, pretty much sums up their day of broadcasting.

04/08/2013 04:57 PM

I ask how Danica did it, which Zetona tried to explain to me, Nascar or Fox’s timing did not show this.

I read on catchfence that Danica took the wave around after lap 242 caution to put her 1 lap down in 27th place. I then rewatched that segment and saw Danica and others take wave around.

Fox was still listing her 2 laps down on lap 256, with all the coverage Fox gives Danica I just found it hard to believe they said nothing when she got that first lap back, and did not see how she could have gotten it during the caution for Carl’s spin.

Tin Man
04/08/2013 05:26 PM

I thought it very ironic that the race sponsor was STP gas treatment. Shows you NA$CAR is hypocritical since they are so pushing E85. The STP add lists it as a moisture absorbent which is exactly what the ethanol creates.
I would like for DW to explain his comment on the Gen6 car closing faster than COT during the race. Isn’t that a function of the accelerator?

04/08/2013 06:34 PM

Fortunately I was watching this one from the stands at Martinsville and not on TV. It’s a much better race when you can see all the action.

Let’s see Johnson didn’t let Jr get in front of him, well, considering he doesn’t usually do any of his teammates favors or even play nicely, not sure why anyone is surprised. He did slow down into 3, but Jr couldn’t flip it around.

I enjoyed the race. It was a beautiful day at the track, I didn’t have to deal with the tv idiots and although my favorite didn’t win, he got a top 5 and moved up some in the points. Right now, that makes me happy.

Danica managed to stay out of trouble. I didn’t see anything wrong with how she drove with Jr on her outside. Crap like that happens late in the race.

04/10/2013 12:34 AM

Johnson doesn’t owe Jr. squat.
Vickers is an idiot and should find another series to run; like the bumper cars at the local fair.
FOX’s side-by-side is a joke. A 9” x 10.5” box on my 50” screen? And the first time they used it was under caution?
Someone please tell DW and MW to STFU once in a while. FOX SUCKS.


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
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