Who’s in the headline – Rusty Wallace won at Martinsville Speedway six times drivng for Roger Penske. He last won a grandfather clock for Penske in 2004. Since then, it had been an agonizing drought for Team Penske.
Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have both come very close in Southern Virginia, but failed to seal the deal. On Sunday, that changed when Keselowski was in the mix all day long. He passed Kyle Busch with 43 laps to go and stretched out his advantage to 1.8 seconds as he took home the checkered flag.
What happened – Stage racing hit its second short track and it didn’t disappoint. The first stage saw two on-track passes for the lead and chaos as it came to an end. Cars were beating, banging, rooting and gouging to the flag to end the stage, with Martin Truex Jr. securing the win. Some of the usual cast of characters took their turns at the front with Logano, Denny Hamlin and Busch all took turns at the point before Truex secured the stage win.
In the second stage, Chase Elliott and Busch swapped the lead three times, the final time on last lap of the stage. Busch put Ricky Stenhouse Jr. a lap down as the stage was about to end. He was attempting to lap Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon in a gaggle of cars heading through turns three and four on the last lap. Stenhouse punted Busch from behind, moving him out of the groove. Not only did Stenhouse get back on the lead lap, Elliott swooped past the No. 18 and secured the win in Stage 2.
Busch led 129 of the 133 green flag laps to start the final stage. Keselowski and Busch diced for the lead over the final 95 laps — through green flag and caution flag laps — swapping the lead five times. The race saw 14 caution flags for 95 laps, 11 of which were for incidents on the track. The other three were the ends of the first two stages and one was for debris.
Why you should care – The victory for Keselowski makes him the first multiple race winner of the season. He is assured of a spot in the playoffs, assuming he stays in the top 30 in points. Elliott backed up a win in the Truck Series race with a podium finish. He continues to look more and more comfortable racing in the top five, and appears to be close to breaking through for that first Cup Series win.
The biggest concern this weekend is the empty seats in the grandstand. The racing at Martinsville is always intense and fans leave feeling they have seen an event. However, for some reason, the track didn’t come close to a sellout. The fans should be embarrassed for such a poor showing. Just weeks after it was announced that New Hampshire Motor Speedway is losing a date to another mile and a half race track, fans should have been out in full force to support Martinsville. Instead, there were empty seats throughout the grandstand. With only 10 of 36 races on short tracks, soon to be nine, fans need to support them or they will all eventually be gone.
What your friends are talking about – Don’t look now but the format of the All-Star race is going to change again. Rule changes have abounded in NASCAR for the last decade or so. The All-Star Race has been at the forefront, constantly changing and attempting to come up with a formula that will build excitement into an event on a track where passing continues to be very difficult. The format for 2017 is in discussion, and depending on who you listen to, is close or far from being set.
Dave Rogers has stepped away from the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team for a personal leave of absence. Rogers has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Scott Graves. Graves led Daniel Suarez to the XFINITY title last year for JGR. Graves replacement on the No. 18 XFINITY team will be announced next week. There is no word on a planned time for Rogers’ return. His team and his fans hope it is soon.
In a sign that there is a God, Atlanta Motor Speedway announced this week that they are going to delay the repave of the racing surface. After discussions with NASCAR, Goodyear, teams and drivers, the facility has decided to undergo other efforts in an attempt to maintain the weathered, abrasive surface as long as they possibly can. The track will be sealed in some fashion to attempt to maintain the surface integrity. It will be reevaluated after the 2018 triple header weekend.
Felix Sabates anticipates a return to the race track in the very near future. The co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was struck with an illness last fall and, during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90s Late Shift, recounted his ordeal. Sabates says he was in Intensive Care for 73 days and for 29 of those he was in a coma. Right before the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last fall, Sabates daughter messaged Ganassi and informed him they did not think Sabates would make it through the night. Ganassi purchased a new suit to wear to the funeral. Fortunately, he has not had to wear it.
It took a few attempts but Tony Stewart got back into Victory Lane in a winged sprint car this weekend. Stewart took the top spot at Bubba Raceway Park in a USCS race. It was his eighth race of the year in a winged sprint. He has had a hard time getting the feel for the car as technology has advanced, but hit on something in practice that led to the car running more strongly. Stewart came from the 10th starting position to win the race.
A sad piece of news came out Sunday when it was discovered that Sam Ard, two-time Busch Series champion, passed away. Ard is one of the most recognizable drivers in the history of the minor leagues of NASCAR. Ard was the common foil for Jack Ingram for the first three years of the Busch series and for years before on short tracks all over the Southeast. The first three years of the Busch series Ingram had one championship and finished runner-up to Ard in the other two. Ard was the runner-up to Ingram in the first year of the series.
Who is mad – The Chip Ganassi Racing teams were looking very strong Sunday. At one point, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray were running first and second. Unfortunately for McMurray he had an incident during the race where his left rear wheel well opening was damaged and resulted in a tire rub. The rub eventually caused the tire to fail and the resulting spin ended with contact into the outside wall of turns three and four. What looked like a very promising day turned into a last place finish.
After winning the Daytona 500, Kurt Busch has had a season to forget. A seventh place at Atlanta has been followed by no finish better than 24th in the last four races, including a 37th-place run on Sunday. Many times the 500 winner will have a hangover, but this is getting extreme. The important thing for Busch is to get into a rhythm as the playoffs approach. For now it is just time to right the ship and get back to running at the front.
Who is happy – AJ Allmendinger is certainly happy about the discussion of having the fall race at Charlotte on the road course. Until the third road race is added to the schedule, he should lobby to have Martinsville slotted into the schedule ten times per season. Allmendinger has more top 10 finishes at Martinsville than any other track and it is his fifth best in terms of average finish. Allmendinger finished sixth on Sunday to add to that total and score his second best finish of the young season.
2016 was the best year in Cup by far for Dillon. His third full season saw four top fives and 13 top tens. Unfortunately he still has not broken into the win column. After the victory for Ryan Newman at Phoenix, the three year drought for Richard Childress Racing came to an end. Now the organization needs to have the flagship No. 3 car in Victory Lane. Dillon started Sunday 20th and came home with a fifth-place finish. It is his first top five and top ten of the season but it is a building block towards a run to a win in 2017.
When the checkered flag flew:
For the first time in 275 Cup series starts, Brad Keselowski went to Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway.
This win is the second of 2017 for Keselowski.
The triumph is Keselowski’s 23rd of his career.
The victory puts Keselowski in a tie for 33rd on the all-time win list with Ricky Rudd.
For the third time in his career Kyle Busch finished in the top two at Martinsville.
This was the first top two run for Busch in 2017.
Busch has been the first loser 37 times in his career. That ties him with Bobby Isaac and Ned Jarrett for 17th on the all-time second place finish list.
Chase Elliott scored his first podium finish at Martinsville.
It was the second time in 2017 that Elliott finished on the podium.
The third place run was the seventh time in his young career that Elliott has come home in the top three. That ranks him in a tie for 123rd on the all-time podium list with Johnny Allen, John Andretti, Johnny Benson Jr., Lake Speed, Nelson Stacy, and Emanuel Zervakis.
Erik Jones finished 12th to claim the Rookie of the Race award.
By virtue of his second victory Keselowski is guaranteed to make the playoffs provided he stays in the top 30 in points. In addition to Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson will also make the playoffs provided there are not more than 16 different winners and they all stay in the top 30 in points. The 11 drivers who would make the playoffs based on points and their current position:
- Chase Elliott
- Joey Logano
- Kyle Busch
- Ryan Blaney
- Clint Bowyer
- Jamie McMurray
- Kevin Harvick
- Kasey Kahne
- Erik Jones
- Jimmie Johnson
- Trevor Bayne
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
On the heels of the announcement that another short track will be removed from the schedule next year, the racing at Martinsville once again proved that short tracks offer up the best races every season. There wasn’t a sparks flying, tire smoking, door banging run off of turn four, but there was intense battling all day long and all three of the stages had intense competition at the end. As a result, the race receives five cold Agents of Chaos Beers from Chaos Mountain Brewing.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The series heads to the Lone Star state and a date with the freshly paved Intermediate track of Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday April 9 on your local FOX affiliate. The race can also be heard on local PRN affiliates, goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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