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Rookie Ty Dillon and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship hopeful James Buescher tried to mount a charge on a late restart, but it was Kevin Harvick who went to victory lane on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250 with a dominating performance at the .526-mile short track. Harvick led all but two of the 250 laps on his way to the win. Dillon led two laps early in the event, but the other 248 were all Harvick, all the time.
The race behind Harvick was much more hotly contested, and as is typical of Martinsville, it wasn’t incident-free. There were a total of seven cautions for 49 laps throughout the event. The first yellow flag flew at lap 22 for three laps as Justin Lofton got into Ron Hornaday Jr. and sent him spinning. The leaders did not pit and Harvick got the first of many big restarts, jumping in front of Dillon from the outside lane. Dillon appeared at times to have a truck that could race with Harvick, but Harvick’s experience on the restarts made the difference.
Martinsville is notoriously hard on tires, as drivers use their brakes harder than any other track, and this week was no different. The first tire problem came at lap 76, when Joey Coulter’s right front let go in turn 3. Coulter’s truck sustained damage to the right-front fender, but Coulter was able to drive it back to pit road. This time, the leaders took advantage of the slowdown in action to pit for fresh rubber and fuel.
Just 11 laps after returning to green-flag conditions after Coulter’s accident, John Wes Townley got into JR Fitzpatrick, collecting Jeff Agnew in the process. Harvick got the jump on the field on the lap 99 restart, but the caution flag flew again on lap 112 when the No. 15 truck of Dusty Davis stalled on the frontstretch and would not refire. The caution period stretched to 10 laps when safety workers had difficulty getting the truck on the tow truck.
Harvick led the field to the green flag once again and was able to stretch out a sizeable lead over Dillon when the tire issues returned and David Starr spun in turn 2 on lap 159, bringing out caution number five for a total of six laps. The slowdown proved to be only a minor inconvenience to Harvick, who led the field off pit road and stretched out another big lead in the laps following the restart. David Reutimann was the next to bring out the yellow flag in turn 1 on lap 228. The leaders elected not to pit with just over 10 laps remaining.
Harvick didn’t have time to take off on the lap 234 restart as the final caution of the day flew for a tangle in turn 4 between Max Gresham and Jeb Burton, who made his CWTS debut this week, qualifying seventh and racing on the lead lap all day long. Burton would eventually recover and finish 13th after the incident.
With just six laps to settle the race, Harvick made it clear from the drop of the green flag that he didn’t intend to make a race out of it, Dillon and Buescher waged a furious battle for the runner-up spot. Dillon was able to hang on and keep the position, while Buescher had to be content with third place. Lofton and Timothy Peters rounded out the top five.
Nelson Piquet Jr., who won the K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol two weeks ago to become just the fifth foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR event, finished sixth. Ross Chastain, Jason Leffler, John King and Jason White completed the top 10.
The rookie King leaves Martinsville with a one-point lead over Peters in the CWTS standings. Lofton, Dillon and Buescher fill in the top five. Harvick is ineligible to earn CWTS points because he is racing for a Sprint Cup championship. The No. 2 truck that he piloted is currently sixth in owner points for Richard Childress Racing and owner-of-record Delana Harvick.
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