Looking for the who, what, when, where, why and how behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Filling in for another driver is not easy. Even with the best of equipment, cars are built and set up to someone else’s preferences. Communication styles differ and team chemistry is disrupted. A talented driver can step into the best car in the field and not have instant success. It took a few weeks for the No. 18 team to adjust to having David Ragan in the driver’s seat, instead of Kyle Busch who is recovering from injuries sustained in an Xfinity Series race in Daytona. It came together in Martinsville, with Ragan gaining 15 positions from his 20th-place starting spot to finish a solid fifth. It’s Ragan’s best finish since he won the spring race at Talladega in 2013.
What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?
At short tracks (and superspeedways) the biggest obstacle is often other drivers. With nowhere to go on a narrow half-mile, chain reactions happen in the blink of an eye. Tempers flare. Drivers move others and get moved themselves. There can be more hard feelings at the end of the day at Martinsville than just about anywhere else. The good news is that damage here is rarely a race-ending proposition, as cars routinely run missing fenders, hoods, and/or quarterpanels.
This week, the caution flag got some heavy use, waving 16 times for 112 laps. But that’s a part of short track racing¸and unlike at most tracks, an incident at Martinsville isn’t the end of the world. There were 20 different cars listed at the end of the day as being involved in bringing out at least one caution… and five of them finished in the top 15 with two of those in the top five. Moves that would end someone’s day at most tracks are simply racing incidents that drivers move on from on the paperclip. When all was said and done, just two drivers failed to finish the race, and neither of those fell out as a direct result of damage from a crash. Hard racing with beating and banging and muscling through the field is fun to watch. Wrecking is not fun to watch. Do the math, and the only question that remains is why there aren’t more short tracks like Martinsville on the schedule.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Joey Logano won the pole for both races at Martinsville over the weekend and he won the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday. He couldn’t quite complete the sweep, finishing third on Sunday. But when you consider that Logano was involved in a spin on lap 219 and fell deep into the field, that third place was a strong finish for Logano.
Kurt Busch was a favorite to repeat, but after qualifying 26th, he faced a challenge from the start. Busch raced his way to the front and led 21 laps shortly before the halfway mark. Busch fell back to mid-pack in the second half but fought back to finish 14th.
When… did it all go sideways?
Sunday’s race was easily the best of the season to date, but for one driver, it was something he watched on television just like many other fans. Kyle Larson was hospitalized on Saturday after he fainted during an appearance at his team’s souvenir rig. He was taken to a local hospital, and then as a precaution, transferred to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte for further observation by a neurologist. He was reported to be awake and alert after the initial incident, but doctors wanted to evaluate him further.
Regan Smith reprised his super-sub role, filling in as the No. 42 driver and finished 16th. The team reported that so far, all tests on Larson have come back negative and the 22-year-old is resting comfortably and feels completely fine, but doctors wanted to run more tests on Sunday to make sure he’s healthy.
Why… did Denny Hamlin win the race?
When you talk about Martinsville, there are three drivers who top the list when it comes to favorites to win at NASCAR’s oldest track: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin. Johnson had a terrible day, fighting all kinds of mechanical woes. Gordon was in the hunt until a pit-road speeding penalty put the nail in his coffin. That left Hamlin, who drove a superb race. He overcame a pair of pit road penalties and some damage from incidental contact. From there, Joe Gibbs Racing’s senior driver just drove, using some things he learned from his racing heroes along the way.
“Every time we got to the lead our car just got so loose that it was very hard for me to hang onto it,” Hamlin said after the race. “The success that I’ve had at this racetrack comes to watching guys like Bugs Hairfield, Roy Hendrick, Ray Hendrick, Eddie Johnson and those guys that I idolized growing up racing late models and showed me the way to short-track racing. This win is for guys like that.”
How… did the little guys do?
Furniture Row Racing; Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy): His team and its consistency are top notch so far in 2015. After battling power steering issues, it looked like Truex’s top-10 streak might come to an end. But by the end of the day, Truex was up there finishing sixth. Just six races in, the team has already bested its top-10 total from 2014. He’s third in points and the team looks more and more like it will be Chase material with every passing week.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears needed a good run after a couple of lackluster weeks. He knows his cars are fast, and this week his team put everything together, battling back from a spin and a lack of rear grip to run as high as 11th before settling for 15th. Mears hangs tough at 14th in points, down two from last week, despite the strong finish. Germain doesn’t look like a Chase team without a win… but it also doesn’t look like a win would be impossible this year.
Hillman Smith Racing: Landon Cassill (No. 40 Newtown Building Supply Chevy): Cassill started 34th and went forward from there. He was able to use the free pass to his advantage and finish on the lead lap. For many teams, 21st might not be a great finish, but for this team, it’s huge.
Front Row Motorsports; Chris Buescher & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 A&W Ford & No. 35 Ford & No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford): Short tracks are a bit of an equalizer for the smaller teams, and the FRM trio ran on the lead lap for most of the day. A pit gamble paid off for Ragan last fall, and the team remembered, with Gilliland and Whitt staying out under yellow in an attempt to gain track position. At the end of the day, all three cars were in the top 25, with Whitt 22nd, Buescher 23rd and Gilliland 25th. That’s a solid step for the team and on target with its goals.
BK Racing; JJ Yeley & Jeb Burton & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Dr. American Cancer Society Toyota & No. 26 Maxim.com Toyota & No. 83 Dustless Blasting Toyota): BK continues to struggle, and Yeley’s 26th place, especially after an early spin, was a bright spot. Burton and DiBenedetto finished 29th and 31st respectively, a baby step for the team but a step nonetheless.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise scored a top 30 on Sunday, coming in 30th, which is about where this team should be aiming right now. Remember, it’s all about baby steps for these teams. Nothing happens overnight in NASCAR.
Circle Sport; Alex Kennedy (No.33 Dream Factory Chevy): Kennedy, a road racer, was understandably nervous before the race, and his team told him to watch Cassill to see how he drove. Kennedy ran a decent race, finishing 33rd, and recovered from an early spin. He struggled at times, but that’s not unexpected for a driver new to a tough track like Martinsville.
GoFAS Racing; Mike Bliss (No. 32 Corvetteparts.net Ford): Bliss finished 34th this week. On the plus side, he brought his car home in one piece, something that’s important for a team with a small fleet to draw from.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Alex Bowman (No. 7 Nikko/Toy State Chevy): Bowman struggled all day and only climbed into the top 30 for a few laps. A lap 286 pileup didn’t help his cause, and while he was able to finish, his 37th-place result was a disappointment for a team that had some solid runs last year.
HScott Motorsports; Michael Annett & Justin Allgaier (No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 51 Fraternal Order of Eagles/Switch Hitch Chevy): Martinsville is one race that this team would probably like to forget. A crash on Friday sent Allgaier to his backup car, and a pair of crashes on Sunday left that one banged up and in 42nd place at the end of the day. Annett outdid Allgaier on both counts, ending up involved in three separate incidents and finishing 39th on the day. Both drivers need a rebound at Texas.
JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Bean Chevy): It’s likely that nobody is happier to have next weekend off than this team. After finishing 34th in Fontana, Allmendinger was very fast early on Sunday and looking for a rebound. Unfortunately, his car began to smoke, and by lap 176 it was bad enough that NASCAR decided to black flag him. The team was unable to fix an oil leak and had to settle with being the first to get its hauler packed up for the trip home.