Who… would have thought Denny Hamlin could come back to win at Martinsville?
As the caution came out with just nine laps to go, many figured Denny Hamlin was on his way to another victory at Martinsville. Yet as the caution car picked up the field and pit road was opened, down came Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch. Running first and second at the time, many figured they had just handed the race to Jeff Gordon – who was running third and elected to stay out.
Restarting the race with only four laps to go, Busch on two tires lined up eighth, while Hamlin on four was behind him in ninth. When the green flag flew, Hamlin took off, making it three-wide and moving from ninth to fourth.
As the first three cars moved each other out of the way, Hamlin sliced and diced his way through the holes on the track and came through the pack to get the job done. Who would have thought?
What… happened to Matt Kenseth going into Turn 3 coming to the white flag?
The move that wound up giving the win to Hamlin was a bad one on the part of Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth. Battling with Gordon on the final restart of the day, Kenseth gave the No. 24 car a shot then dove under him for the lead as they entered turn 3. Kenseth overdrove the corner and went up across the nose of the No. 24. Upset with the earlier contact, Gordon knocked the No. 17 up the track and out of the groove. With cars racing past him on the bottom, Kenseth struggled to get back in line and finished in the 18th spot.
Upset with how he was raced, Gordon made it clear he was not going to let the No. 17 of Kenseth beat him to the line.
“If somebody hits me, I’m going to hit them,” Gordon said. “If he hit me, I’m glad I did what I did on the back straightaway. If a guy gives you a cheap shot like that, he doesn’t deserve to win the race, in my opinion.”
While Kenseth felt Gordon did not give him enough room, he admitted the risk was not worth the reward.
“It was a dumb move on my part,” Kenseth said. “I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I’d go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake.”
Where… did frontrunner Jeff Burton finish?
Perhaps the only car to have something for Hamlin, Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff Burton showed he was not about to let his fellow Virginian walk away with the victory. The two swapped spots 10 times over a total of 250 laps, all while putting on a great show for their loyal home-state fans.
With just 20 laps remaining, Burton decided it was time to go and he began to put the pressure on Hamlin. Lap after lap the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet poked its nose under going into the corner, at times using the bumper to get in Hamlin’s head. Working through traffic, Burton made contact and cut a right front tire.
Backing off to try and limp to the finish, Burton gave up his pursuit of the win and switched to survival mode. However, the tire gave way on lap 493 and brought out the 12th caution of the day. The crew went to work changing the tire and sent Burton back out on the lead lap to restart the race. After leading five times for a total of 140 laps, Burton and the No. 31 crew were forced to swallow a 20th-place finish.
When… will Denny Hamlin have surgery on his ACL?
After tearing his ACL playing basketball just weeks before the Daytona 500, Hamlin decided to put off surgery on his left knee until after the 2010 season. Friday, news broke that surgery would take place on Monday so the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could use the Easter Break to recover. With rain postponing the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 to Monday afternoon, Hamlin was forced to once again change his plans.
With the delay, Hamlin was going to undergo surgery as early as Monday evening following the race in Martinsville. By scoring the win, that obviously did not happen. Now, Hamlin will go under the knife on Wednesday.
“I’m looking forward to getting it over with mainly because I know after that hour is done, every minute from there on out, we’re gonna start to get better and better and better, where it started getting a little bit worse seems like here lately.”
Why… did Hamlin and Busch pit with eight laps to go?
When the caution flew for Burton’s tire failure, it looked as if Hamlin would have smooth sailing to the checkered flag. After leading the most laps and with teammate Kyle Busch behind him, many figured the JGR team would stay out front and battle it out for the final four laps.
Instead, to the surprise of most, both Hamlin and Busch gave up the top-two positions to hit pit road. The majority of the field stayed out and the pair restarted the race eighth and ninth. With only four laps to go when the race went back to green, few could have expected Hamlin would celebrate in victory lane.
On our own live blog, Phil Allaway said, “D’Oh. They blew it.” While Tom Bowles questioned the call saying, “Now THAT was the call that blew the race. Would Steve Addington have done that?”
“If we had the situation where it was still the old days where you had one attempt at the green-white-checkered or even before that, you would have stayed out,” crew chief Mike Ford said. “No doubt about it. If it were single file, it would have been an easy decision.”
*“If we didn’t pit, I can assure you 90% of the guys behind us would have pitted and we would have definitely lost the race if that’s the case,”* Hamlin said. “To me, I think getting down to it, if I had to put a percentage on it, no matter what we do at the end of this race, whether we pit or don’t pit, it was going to be about a 20% chance we win this race, that was about it. Things were going to have to happen. Not only that 20%, everything had to happen the way they did with us taking tires.”
Luckily for Hamlin and Ford, the decision panned out thanks to a GWC finish and a lot of hard driving by the guy behind the wheel.
How… does NASCAR determine a caution should be thrown?
Over the years, NASCAR has battled inconsistency when it comes to cautions, but on Sunday that inconsistency may have cost Gordon the race. Throughout the afternoon a number of drivers suffered blown tires and slowed on the track. As they attempted to head to pit road for service the rest of the field was forced to take evasive action. At one point, Jamie McMurray had to stop on the track before he could get to the bottom lane and to pit road, but no caution was thrown.
Yet, when Kyle Busch looped the No. 18 Toyota as the field came to the white flag, NASCAR decided it was the perfect time to throw a caution. Much to the dismay of leader Gordon.
*“It was pretty obvious to me NASCAR wanted to do a green-white-checkered finish,”* Gordon said. “There were cars blowing tires, hitting the wall, they weren’t throwing the caution. One spins out, and they threw the caution in the blink of an eye. I think it was pretty obvious what they wanted.”
The caution bunched the field up and sent the race into a GWC finish. With everyone restarting double-file – and the hard-charging Hamlin up to fourth – NASCAR must have been licking its lips for what was about to come… one of the best restarts in recent memory.