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.
In a Nutshell – Jeff 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 When the red was withdrawn, most of the lead lap cars pitted.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.
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.
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.
- Jeff Gordon 4044
- Ryan Newman 4041
- Joey Logano 4040
- Matt Kenseth 4039
- Denny Hamlin 4037
- Carl Edwards 4024
- Brad Keselowski 4013
- Kevin Harvick 4011
- Kyle Busch 2230
- AJ Allmendinger 2198
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2196
- Jimmie Johnson 2186
- Greg Biffle 2178
- Kasey Kahne 2173
- Kurt Busch 2155
- 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.
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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