NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500

Key Moment – During the caution flag that flew for the third incident between Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers on lap 278, Steve Letarte realized that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was going to restart in the fourth position, which would have put him in the outside line. Letarte called Earnhardt in, put four tires on his car, and he restarted eleventh. That decision put Earnhardt in a sequence different from some of the strongest cars of the day and set him up to grab the victory.

2014 Martinsville II CUP Dale Earnhardt Jr wins CIA
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. grabbed his first win at Martinsville on Sunday afternoon. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

In a NutshellJeff Gordon appeared to have the strongest car late in the race at Martinsville, but he was shuffled to the outside on a restart with 58 laps to go and ended up in fifth position. He had to spend a significant number of laps to claw his way back to second behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and when the late race pit stops cycled through under caution, he came out behind Earnhardt and had to restart on the outside, which ultimately was his undoing. The race was full of fits and starts until the 300 lap mark when there was finally a run of 89 laps between caution periods. The event did have 11 leaders who participated in 24 lead changes. As the checkered flag waved, Earnhardt claimed his first career Ridgeway Grandfather Clock.

Dramatic Moment – Earnhardt was leading Gordon by over a second when Kyle Larson got under Marcos Ambrose heading into turn 3 on lap 489. Ambrose pinched down on Larson and caused the two cars to spin in turn 4. The resulting red flag gave the crew chiefs time to think about their strategy for the final run to the finish. When the red was withdrawn, most of the lead lap cars pitted. Tony Stewart, David Ragan and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. stayed out, while Clint Bowyer took two tires. That set up a five-lap dash to the finish. Bowyer’s two-tire call allowed Earnhardt to restart on the inside, which was crucial in his victory.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Running in second position when the caution flag flies should not be a major detriment to a race driver. Competitors who had to restart on the outside had to constantly battle all day and generally lost spots. Denny Hamlin even played games on pit lane, slowing enough to attempt to restart on the inside line. It is time for NASCAR to implement cone restarts. With one lap to go back to green an orange cone is placed on the front straight and the drivers decide whether they want to restart in the inside lane or the outside lane. The cone is retracted once the field passes and they crank back up to speed when the green flag flies. It is done on local short tracks everywhere and works quite well. There is no reason the supposed best drivers in the world can’t pull it off.

Apparently the limit for boys having at it during a single race event is three times. Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne got into each other while racing for position at the back end of the top 20. Kahne muscled his way past Vickers, and the contact between the cars resulted in Vickers going for a loop. Vickers ended up a lap down and made some contact with a back marker that eventually led to his hood blowing up on his car. After pitting to have the hood removed Vickers drove on the track and proceeded to dump Kahne. The rear clip on Kahne’s car was destroyed. After the No. 5 team repaired the damage, Kahne went on the track and spun Vickers. NASCAR informed the teams that the third time was the charm for bringing out the caution and they best not do it again.

Kudos to NASCAR for using the red flag twice during the event. It should have been used two other times at least considering three cautions took double digit laps to clean up. There needs to be a new policy out of Daytona to ensure the clean up processes stop using up important laps. If there is fluid on the track, put out the red flag. It is that simple. We’ve wasted way too many laps over the years waiting on kitty litter.

Stewart-Haas Racing is moving personnel around to try and capture some success for their teams that don’t run a single No. 4 on the door. It was announced this week that Tony Gibson will be Kurt Busch’s crew chief in 2015 and the Daniel Knost is the interim crew chief for Danica Patrick. Both crew chiefs will start with their respective teams next weekend at Texas. Looking at the driver personalities, it’s a very logical choice. Busch is an old school, hands-on, seat of the pants driver who could just as easily have raced in the 60s versus the 2000s. Gibson is the same, having been around long enough to have helped on Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 championship team. Knost, on the other hand, has a doctorate in engineering and that is the kind of training that should mesh well with Patrick and her IndyCar background.

ESPN had Dr. Jerry Punch interview Kurt Busch after his race went up in a ball of fire under caution. For those of you who don’t remember, it was Doc who was trying to interview Kurt when his meltdown happened that ultimately cost him his ride at Team Penske. Hopefully it was a random event. It would be very disappointing if they were hoping to recreate a bad situation for the sake of ratings or out of spite. Fortunately Busch handled what could have been a very volatile situation quite professionally.

NASCAR announced this week that it’s are cutting the fields for Truck Series races to 32. The better idea would have been to increase the purses and help make the fields better with stronger teams. The purses in the Truck Series are an embarrassment, and the sanctioning body should be ashamed that a national touring series doesn’t pay enough for the majority of the teams in a given race to cover their tire bill on a weekend. It also would have been more advisable to announce that the series was going to return to what it was created to do, which was bring a national touring series to tracks that didn’t see the Cup and Nationwide tours. The racing would be better and the benefit of creating fans of up and coming drivers would help increase interest in the sport.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Kevin Harvick‘s weekend went from bad to worse on Sunday. Harvick was too loose in qualifying, contacted the wall and ended up starting the race in 33rd. He battled his was to the sixth spot in the order when he was taken out on a restart by Matt Kenseth after the 2003 Champion wheel hopped his tires into turn 1 and contacted the No. 4 in the left rear. Harvick finished the race in 33rd and is all but forced to win at Texas or Phoenix to advance to Homestead with a shot to win the title.

2014 Martinsville II CUP Kurt Busch vertical CIA
No sweep, but Kurt Busch remained level headed (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Kurt Busch was hoping to sweep the season’s races at Martinsville and led for 21 laps with under 200 to go in the race. Unfortunately for Busch, while circulating under caution shortly after that, Busch had an oil line fail and his car burst into flames, sending him to the garage. While he did return to the track, it was yet another disappointing race effort for Busch and his team who is about to move over to Danica Patrick’s No. 10.

Brad Keselowski squeaked into this round of the Chase by winning at Talladega last weekend. This weekend, he had the misfortune of being being the victim of a broken part in the drive train and ultimately ended up causing a big pileup and a red flag. As a result, he finished the race 28 laps down in 31st position. While there are two races to go in this round it is looking like the 2012 champion is going to have to win one of the next two races to advance to the final four in Homestead.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Tony Stewart won at Martinsville in 2011 and told Carl Edwards he was coming to get him in his post race comments. That was after Stewart acknowledged that the team wasn’t good enough to be in the Chase or win the title when he first made it in. This season has been a major disappointment and struggle for Stewart. His fourth-place run at Martinsville is his best finish of the season, tied with a fourth at Bristol early in the year.

AJ Allmendinger has quietly been a strong competitor since making the Chase and failing to advance beyond the first round. He has finished 11th, 12th, 23rd and ninth in the four races since his elimination. As a result, he currently sits in tenth in points behind only Kyle Busch among the drivers who are not still mathematically alive for the title.

While Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth were in the same incident early in the race, Kenseth rebounded for a great sixth-place finish. Harvick attempted to damage Kenseth’s car when he returned to the track, but the brake check didn’t succeed in damaging the radiator on the No. 20. After being 19th with 25 laps to go, Kenseth used adjustments and driving talent to navigate the chaos of the final laps of the race and improve his result to nearly the top 5 after being 27th at the midway point.

Worth Noting

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s win at Martinsville was the 23rd of his career in 538 starts. The win was Earnhardt’s fourth of the 2014 Cup season. It is his second best season of his career in terms of triumphs (2004 – 6). The win also puts Earnhardt in a tie for 31st on the all-time wins list with Carl Edwards and Ricky Rudd.

Jeff Gordon’s runner-up result was his 13th top-2 finish at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon’s second place was his 11th run in the first two spots in 2014.

Ryan Newman came home in third position for the second time in 2014. The third-place run ties his best such finish of the season. Newman’s podium finish was his third career top 3 at Martinsville Speedway.

Austin Dillon finished in the 12th spot to win the Rookie of the Race.

Matt Kenseth has 30 starts at Martinsville and has yet to score a win at the oldest track on the schedule.

Martinsville Speedway is the only track on the schedule that was on the first ever NASCAR Cup series schedule.

What’s the Points

The points matter now that the Chase for the Sprint Cup has begun. Up to three drivers can advance to the next round by winning races in this segment. The other drivers making up the four who make it to the final round will do so on points. The 16 drivers in the Chase are listed below with their point total after the seventh race of the Chase, the first of the third segment. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did not advance to this round of the Chase so no one is assured of moving on to Homestead after Martinsville.

  1. Jeff Gordon 4044
  2. Ryan Newman 4041
  3. Joey Logano 4040
  4. Matt Kenseth 4039
  5. Denny Hamlin 4037
  6. Carl Edwards 4024
  7. Brad Keselowski 4013
  8. Kevin Harvick 4011
  9. Kyle Busch 2230
  10. AJ Allmendinger 2198
  11. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2196
  12. Jimmie Johnson 2186
  13. Greg Biffle 2178
  14. Kasey Kahne 2173
  15. Kurt Busch 2155
  16. Aric Almirola 2124

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – This just in, short track racing is awesome. The series goes to three short tracks during the season a total of six times. The majority of the time, when the series goes to a short track the racing is good and sometimes it is great. Sunday it was great. There were multiple on-track passes for the lead, there were intense three-wide battles throughout the day. No old scores were settled but there were at least two drivers intentionally wrecking each other on more than one occasion. The most popular driver in the sport won the race with fresh tires in five laps restarting the race in fifth position. That is a ice cold six pack of Budweiser in memory of the last time Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won four or more races in a season.

Next Up

The series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the final race of the season on a D-shaped Intermediate track. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday Nov. 2. The race can be seen on ESPN and heard on PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR radio.

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Steve

I have a better idea to solve the kitty litter problem. If you are leaking oil on the track, Nascar needs to direct them to the pit road immediately instead of letting them make 3 more laps leaking oil all over the track. If they don’t go to pit road immediately, they should be penalized a lap.

Did Jr win the championship yesterday? If I didn’t know any better, I would thought that given the overdone celebration and of course ESPN’s Jr lovefest. And lets not forget the obligatory plane crash talk yet again at Martinsville. Not trying to sound insensitive, but at what point do people move on from this?

I do agree with your truck series assessment. Typical Nascar though, avoid the real problem by putting lipstick on a pig.

Funny how the racing is always good at the short tracks, but we only visit these tracks for 6 races. And Nascar wonders why nobody watches the sport anymore and its returned to its niche status.

JohnQ

Mike, how long can you ignore the elephant in the truck series room. Purses are low because the truck series attendance is in free fall. Attendance is in free fall because apparently nobody cares to watch Cup drivers turn the series into non competitive practice sessions. If purses were raised to a million a win it would be irrelevant since Cup drivers TAKE all the purses anyway. In my opinion NASCAR waited too long to act and the truck series will fade away regardless of what if any future too little too late action is taken.

Tommy T.

Agree. I don’t know what the answer is to the truck series. Historically, at least in my opinion they have consistently provided exciting racing but have been unable to put butts in the seats. I think the truth is the Sprint Cup Series is the only ‘big league’ series that folks really care about with the exception of the Indy 500.

GinaV24

I was at the race so I got to see the whole thing, rather than whatever ESPN chose to show the fans at home. It was an interesting race to watch from the stands. I agree with Neff’s comment that the outside line shouldn’t be such a handicap that drivers/teams have to try and make sure they don’t restart outside but Martinsville has been like that for a while. That is one of the reasons why I haven’t been a fan of the double file restart rule inside 10 laps because it does impact the race ending.

I was surprised but pleased that NASCAR threw the red flag rather than just letting the laps wind down since that would also have impacted the end of the race.

It was a beautiful day in Martinsville yesterday, sometimes late October is not great weather, but it was warm and sunny yesterday. Had a great time, just wish it had been Gordon in VL, but that’s just my own personal preference.

Carl D.

Does Kasey Kahne really think the viewers are blind? He deliberately spun Vickers to start yesterday’s shenanigans. I wasn’t impressed by either drivers’ behavior on the track, but Kahne started the whole deal and then denied it. Man up, Kasey.

That Jeff Gordon team wants #5 really, really bad and they have the cars, the consistency, and the hunger to make it happen this year. Of the drivers left in the chase, Logano seems to be his biggest obstacle.

Another top ten for Allmendinger. A.J. is a pretty damned good race car driver, and if Penske ever goes to a three car team he ought to consider rehiring the Dinger.

I can go with a six-pack of ice-cold Bud. Just don’t make me eat one of those nasty Martinsville hotdogs.

Don in CT

People never move on from the loss of loved ones. Glad to see Dale win one. I actually watched the last 60 laps or so. Now I am hoping that the last three races are won by Stewart or Johnson or ANY other non-chase driver to drive home how idiotic this format is. Maybe some day we can get back to a real championship series where it actually means something instead of some WWL crapshoot.

janice

jr has moved on from his father’s death. when they brought up the hendrick crash thing while interviewing him in victory lane i thought he looked like a hear caught in the headlights. yes it was tragic what happened 10 yrs ago. i saw a pic of jr with hendrick in victory lane holidng a decal from 10 yrs ago. i just thought that didn’t need to be mentioned, again.

Tim S.

I’m so sick of hearing about the plane crash. Yes, it was a horrible thing. But not only has it been ten years, haid it been any other organization, there would’ve just been a decal on the cars the next week and that’s it. Because it’s Hendrick Cup, we have to hear it every year anew.

kb

Amen, Rick and family are not the only ones to have suffered a tragedy. I actually didn’t watch the race, I had other resources for updates. I did not want to hear “Chase this and that” and the Rick Hendrick pity party. and you knew when one his drivers won, it was going to be mentioned again. Guess Rick is the only one that fans needs to reminded of HIS LOSS. Very tiring and I glad others noticed, we have been witching about this sick adulation for years.

salb

Short tracks and road courses are the only saving grace for Nascar right now. The stupidity of building all those 1 1/2 mile tracks then blaming the cars and/or drivers for lackluster races…North Wilkesboro and The Rock were never missed more. I wonder how happy Nascar is going to be with this ‘new and improved (again)’ format if Matt or Ryan take the ‘winner take all’ title by placing 15th at Homestead and no wins. Guess you just can’t manufacture excitement, can you? HINT.

GinaV24

thought it was interesting in my own unofficial poll at Martinsville yesterday, standing around talking to race fans and not one seems to think that this new chase system is wonderful. Pretty much everyone shakes their heads and says it is stupid.

NASCAR and its media minions (including Moody & the NASCAR PR people) can spin things however they want and the drivers can speak their scripted soundbites for the track & NASCAR PR but that doesn’t mean the fans believe any of that garbage.

janice

some things i noticed from my sporadic watching of the race.

1. hendrick doesn’t have team orders? WHAT? i guess i now believe in the easter bunny and santa clause. if i remember correctly, and i am old, but a few years ago at ‘dega it was decided that the hendrick drivers would ride in the back and that johnson decided when they’d move to the front. i think jr said after that race, never again. he’d run his own race.

2. why were none of the other “chase players” interviewed, besides gordon? ryan is 2nd in points. i know na$car is not happy that a non-chaser won the race.

3. but na$car is happy that earnhardt won the race. the cash cow came through for them. i guess they’re hoping his win will put butts in the seats at texas and phoenix.

4. why is it that jr doesn’t call hendrick “mr h”, and i believe gordon doesn’t as well? i guess cause jr sitll maches to the beat of his own drummer most of the time.

5. not sure about how espn showed the kelly earnhardt tweet on sportscenter about she didn’t shed a tear til after she saw her bro hug “mr. h” 3 times. can’t help but think about the “3” from their father and of course the hendrick tragedy. i think jr thought nothing about either of those things, as he was bouncing all around and overjoyed with his win.

6. sunday was the first time i recall a post-race interview (on tv) with stewart since his problems.

oh well and sigh….princess sparkle pony had a rough day. at least this weekend mr. princess sparkle pony got to race.

GinaV24

Dunno about any team orders for HMS, certainly each car seemed to be running their own race yesterday. If the “fix” was in, Jr would have let Gordon win to guarantee he was in at Homestead but then again, Jr winning makes NASCAR think happy $$ thoughts. There was a large Jr fan group there yesterday, they were having fun and that’s great. I was having fun, too, although of course I’d have been happier had the 24 won. LOL

Jeff always refers to Hendrick as “boss” whenever he talks to him on the radio. I would imagine that Mr. H works for Jr.

Missed all the post race interviews since we had to run to make the airport with all of the red flags so I have no idea who they talked with other than the winner. ESPN has their own odd method of deciding who to talk to after races. I can’t figure it out and after the end of this year, I won’t even have to try since they will be gone!

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Just Saying

There is nothing in Nascar that Martinsville can’t cure.

More short track racing – waste of breath I know.

Kevin in SoCal

Mike said: NASCAR informed the teams that the third time was the charm for bringing out the caution and they best not do it again.”

Are you complaining about this, or just mentioning it? Payback is one thing, but continuous attempts to wreck another driver are stupid. What if some other driver has his day ruined because of Kahne or Vickers? What if a flying piece of debris from their beat-up cars hit some one?

rg72

Getting into bumper cars is probably not the best way to endear yourself to other car owners when you will be looking for a job in the coming months (Kasey Kahne).
Here’s one idea for the Truck Series. How about not having an offseason within the season like they do from Daytona to mid-May, only racing at Martinsville? Put on a couple shows where fans may be starved for racing after the winter. I wonder how much longer having two feeder national series is feasible.
This may be a bit blasphemous but I wonder if they should considered lopping 50 or 100 laps off the Martinsville races. Yesterday approached four hours without even including the red flag periods. Sure, we’d miss 2 or 3 spinouts by drivers with no business out there.
I also wonder if the time isn’t right to use the old restart rules at Martinsville. The cars restarting 3rd, 5th, and 7th shouldn’t have an advantage over the 2nd place car.
I’m already figuring what could happen at Phoenix if a winless Newman and/or Kenseth appears in position to advance to Homestead late in the race. Debris without debris caution, maybe the pit road radar gun is off a little if you know what I mean.

DoninAjax

Why did NASCAR wait until the third incident? Now Vickers is behind 2-1.

When there is a red flag I’d like to see the laps not start counting until the green flag.

DoninAjax

Why did NASCAR wait until the third incident? Now Vickers is behind 2-1.

When there is a red flag, I’d like the laps to start counting at the green flag.

DoninAjax

Sorry about the second one. I didn’t realize the first one got posted.

Bill B

I agree with others who have said that more short tracks like Martinsville would solve a lot of the issues that plague NASCAR. Six ice cold cans of your favorite it is.

I have been raging against the double file restarts since they’ve been implemented. Martinsville really highlights how bad it can be but all tracks seem to have a preferred grove that makes those in the wrong line handicapped and lose several positions every time there is a restart. How stupid to see guys playing games coming out of the pits trying to get the odd or even number. That ain’t racing. I’m with any of the ideas suggested here; cone restarts, single file after a certain point which I’d argue should be higher than the last ten laps (maybe 50 at a half mile track), or going back to the old way. I’d prefer either single file or the old way but something needs to be done. I’m tired of someone in a higher position being handicapped on the restart (more crapshoot, luck of the draw BS).

Janice, do not use the abomination that is restrictor plate racing to prove team orders exist. That’s just too easy. Anyone that’s been paying attention knows that RP racing requires help from someone to move forward. With respect to Martinsville, if there were team orders Jr would have found a way to let Gordon by. I’m glad he didn’t but there is no doubt whatsoever that there were no such thing yesterday.

I get why everyone is tired of the annual reminder of the HMS tragedy. The reason it probably still resonates with so many is because of the number of victims involved and because an HMS driver wins that race 90% of the time (even before the tragedy).

Also, I’d bet that Jeff and Junior just call him Rick when they are away from the media. Hell, Jeff has known him for over 20 years. I could be wrong but it’s pretty accepted in the work place to call even the highest level by their first name if you work closely with them long enough. (Who wants to be called “Mr anything”?)

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