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*In a Nutshell:* Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway could have been renamed the Kevin Harvick show as the Cup driver led 248 of 250 laps en route to his 14th career victory. In an uncharacteristically calm race that was slowed by just seven cautions, Harvick easily led the field and often pulled out front by more than a second during each green-flag run. James Buescher, Justin Lofton and Timothy Peters rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* *Kevin Harvick.* Simply put, Harvick was the class of the field, leading the first practice and starting on the pole with a speed just 0.016 seconds faster than rookie Ty Dillon. Had he not given up the lead to teammate Dillon for bonus points, there’s no doubt he would have led all 250 laps in his record-breaking performance. But what’s even more interesting is how he helped Dillon out. Since the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet is a rookie and inexperienced at the 0.526-mile track, Harvick took the outside line on every restart to allow Dillon the low side of the track.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*
*1. How did Martinsville treat debuting driver Jeb Burton?*
Martinsville Speedway has always been know as a track that’s tough, especially to a newcomer. And that was no different on Saturday afternoon when Jeb Burton made his Truck Series debut. Last month at Daytona, Jeb’s father Ward opened the season behind the wheel of the No. 27 since the younger Burton hadn’t been cleared to run superspeedway races yet, but with the season-opener well in the rear-view, the 19-year-old had his chance to shine.
Saturday morning, Burton impressed, posting a solid seventh-place starting spot. And while he did drop back a bit, Burton managed to make a couple on-track passes and remained solidly on the lead lap despite the blistering pace set by eventual winner Kevin Harvick.
And just when it looked like the young driver would make it out of his debut mostly unscathed, he was collected with less than 20 laps remaining to bring out the seventh and final caution. When Max Gresham spun up on the high side of the track, Burton slowed but was unable to avoid a bit of front end contact. However, despite that bit of damage, the driver of the No. 27 pulled out a solid 13th-place lead lap finish.
When it comes down to it, a 13th for a driver in his Truck Series debut at a place like Martinsville is pretty impressive. It’s a track that’s traditionally tough even on veteran drivers, so to sneak out with a lead-lap top 15 is a dream come true. But what’s really important for Burton is to continue his training and seat time, allowing him to get a better handle on his trucks as he looks to expand a budding career.
_(Author’s Note: Drivers Tyler Tanner and Natalie Sather were both scheduled to make their Truck Series debuts this weekend but failed to qualify.)_
*2. Whose performance was most impressive Saturday afternoon?*
The Kroger 250 may have been the Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon show, but there were plenty of other drivers who impressed at Martinsville. Inside the top 5 alone, James Buescher once again pulled out a top-5 finish and may have been able to get more if he had managed to keep his nose inside Dillon on the final two restarts. And right behind him, Justin Lofton posted a strong fourth-place finish, improving upon his best finish of 13th in 2009 at the 0.526-mile paperclip. However, the pair was not alone. J.R. Fitzpatrick brought home his No. 60 Equipment Express Chevrolet in 12th despite a spin at the hands of a loose Jon Wes Townley.
But perhaps the driver that stands out the most is the one who went from an unknown to instant stardom based on his surprising victory at Daytona–John King. Leaving the 2.5-mile season opener, I read several comments that King was a fluke and he wouldn’t stick around the top spot in the standings long. However, though he struggled early, the rookie driver managed to keep the fenders on his truck and posted a solid ninth-place showing, allowing him to maintain the points lead.
With all of that said, it’s still nearly impossible to pinpoint a team that will stand out when it comes to the championship in November, but you can believe each of these drivers should be somewhere inside the top 10 with just a handful of races remaining.
*Truck Rookie Report*
*2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:*
Dakoda Armstrong (No. 98)
Ty Dillon (No. 3)
Dusty Davis (No. 15)
T.J. Duke (No. 07 – not entered at Martinsville)
Ross Chastain (No. 08)
Cale Gale (No. 33)
Max Gresham (No. 24)
Paulie Harraka (No. 5)
Caleb Holman (No. 75 – not entered at Martinsville)
John King (No. 7)
Bryan Silas (No. 99)
John Wes Townley (No. 09)
*No. of Rookies in the Race:* 11 (add debuting driver Jeb Burton)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 3; Ty Dillon–2nd; Ross Chastain–7th; John King–9th
*Rookie Of The Race:* Ty Dillon
Following his impressive ninth-place run at Daytona in February, *Ty Dillon* once again impressed on the track. Starting on the front row with teammate Kevin Harvick, he maintained the second spot all day long, with the exception of two laps led when Harvick pulled over for the driver of the No. 3. And despite a late-race challenge by James Buescher, Dillon managed to hold his position and score his best career finish.
In just his seventh career start, *Ross Chastain* improved upon his debut finish of tenth at O’Reilly Raceway Park last season. In fact, he paced himself, stayed out of trouble and brought home the truck with little damage and scored a solid seventh-place finish. As a result, the team may have become just a bit more visible to potential sponsors while they looking for backing to continue running each week.
Surprise Daytona winner *John King* removed some doubt in his young career. With the nature of a restrictor plate race, any driver can–and has–visit victory lane. But what was more impressive was King’s performance Saturday. Though he fell off of the lead lap early, the driver of the No. 7 Red Horse Racing Toyota took advantage of a lucky dog under the second caution and only moved forward from there to his eventual finishing position of ninth, and he even maintained his spot atop the standings.
While there were rookies who had great runs Saturday afternoon, several were bitten by the close-quarters racing while a couple others suffered mechanical failures. *Jon Wes Townley* (23rd), *Dakoda Armstrong* (21st) and *Brian Silas* (26th) each found themselves with residual damage from other drivers’ wrecks while *Max Gresham* (19th) had nowhere to go when second-year driver Miguel Paludo got loose. Meanwhile, *Paulie Harraka* was plagued by power problems, likely attributed to alternator failures that bit several drivers, and he was forced to accept a 22nd-place finish, two laps on the pace. *Dusty Davis,* however, didn’t even make it to the checkers after he burned up the rear gear on his No. 15 Toyota after just 104 laps; he finished 33rd.
“Second place for my first start at Martinsville–I’ll take it. We had a tough day [Friday] and it showed. We were real solid in the pits. We never fell back further than third.” _Ty Dillon_
“This was my career-best finish in my seventh start. To get to run with Jason (Leffler), another fast Toyota, was pretty cool. He got kind of screwed by the 30 (Nelson Piquet, Jr.) there, but he used up his mulligan on the Toyota boys. We are just looking for sponsorship to keep running–that’s the big thing. We got a great seventh-place finish and can’t thank everyone that helped out enough. Just looking for more businesses to come on board so we can keep racing.” _Ross Chastain_
“Just to finish here is good enough. There’s a lot of torn up trucks at the end of this race. We were able to make it to the end. Had a kind of poor qualifying effort, but the guys worked really hard. We were able to find ourselves in it at the end of the race and have a truck behind us that we could push with when the time came. I have a lot to learn yet–I’m an extreme rookie. Just really happy to be hooked up with a team like Red Horse (Racing). It takes 10 years of a learning curve off of my career. I’m just ready for Rockingham and Kansas.” _John King, finished ninth_
John King maintained the top spot on the standings after a solid ninth-place showing Saturday afternoon, and he currently leads Timothy Peters and Justin Lofton by just one point. Ty Dillon moved up four positions to fourth and sits just four markers behind King. Jason White, who dropped one spot rounds out the top 5.
Turner Motorsports drivers James Buescher and Nelson Piquet, Jr. jumped to sixth and eighth respectively. Parker Kligerman sits seventh, 16 markers back after finishing 11th despite chain-reaction damage in the wreck that brought the seventh caution. Ron Hornday, Jr., up four spots and Todd Bodine, down five spots round out the top 10.
“Not a bad way to make our first truck start for RCR. It’s been a long time since we dominated like that and actually won. We made a lot of changes in the off-season, moving our truck teams over to Richard Childress Racing. This is what we hoped for–making a good truck team a better truck team. Some of these guys (crew members) had been to Victory Lane and some of the them hadn’t.” _Kevin Harvick_
“Today was a great day. We struggled yesterday in the first practice and Michael Shelton (Crew Chief) and all the guys on this AccuDoc Solutions team didn’t panic and made some great changes. our truck was really good all day long. The pit crew did a great job getting us a couple of spots on pit road and we were able to keep our Chevrolet out of trouble. I feel like every time we come to Martinsville Speedway we improve out package. We had a shot at Kevin (Harvick) and Ty (Dillon) there at the end but just couldn’t complete the pass. We will take it and move on to Rockingham.” _James Buescher, finished third_
“I am really happy to leave Martinsville with a top 5. I’ve had decent runs here before, but always seemed to get caught up in something. Today, everything hit just right and we got a good finish. The truck was dialed in and I can’t thank all of the guys enough for the hard work in preparing this College Complete Chevrolet Silverado. To get such good runs at Daytona and Martinsville, tracks that are hit or miss and really tough, it sets a good tone for our season.” _Justin Lofton, finished fourth_
*Up Next:* The Camping World Truck Series takes a weekend off before heading to Rockingham Speedway for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 presented by Cheerwine Sunday, April 15th. It will be the first NASCAR race at the 1.017-mile oval since 2002. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 12:30 PM EDT.
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