The Headline(s): Martin Truex, Jr. took what Brad Keselowski did to the field in the spring race at Martinsville and bested it, winning both stages and leading 464 laps en route to a snore-inducing victory in the First Data 500. It was his seventh win of 2019, 26th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and 39th career NASCAR national series victory.
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) October 27, 2019
William Byron, Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five. The post-race was marked with fireworks, as Hamlin and Joey Logano, along with their respective crews, got into a fracas on pit road (more on that later).
How It Happened: Hamlin took off from the pole and led until the first caution flew on lap 29, when contact between Ross Chastain and Matt Crafton dropped a brake duct on the frontstretch. A poor stop by Hamlin’s crew handed the lead to Truex, a lead that he would hold easily for the remainder of stage one. Of note during the first stage, Chase Elliott rebounded from starting at the back of the field after an engine change to finish in the top 10 and score stage points.
Truex pulled away on the lap 140 restart, and though the race had several incidents including Erik Jones getting the worst of a three-wide battle between Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto, as well as Alex Bowman forced to pit under green with a loose wheel around lap 150, the yellow wouldn’t fly until lap 179, when Ty Dillon spun on the frontstretch after coming across Daniel Hemric’s nose in turn 4.
The lap 179 caution proved costly for Hendrick Motorsports; Jimmie Johnson incurred damage on pit road, making contact with both Keselowski and one of Ty Dillon’s tires exiting his pit stall, while Elliott was forced behind the wall with a broken axle.
A tough break for @chaseelliott.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 27, 2019
Truex resumed leading the race after the lap 185 restart through an uneventful stretch, though lap 221 saw the first engagement of what would become an afternoon-long battle between Keselowski and Hamlin for a spot in the top 10. The caution would fly again on lap 252 when Clint Bowyer slowed on the frontstretch with a flat tire having pit under green on lap 249… only to have his crew change the wrong side’s tires. The late-stage caution opened the door for strategy, with Kyle Larson staying out on old tires. Though Larson cashed in with stage points as a result of the pit call, Truex would pass the No. 42 in turn two on the final lap of stage two to score the win.
Truex again pulled away from the field on the lap 269 restart, as the action heated up behind him; by lap 286, Logano had bumped past teammate Blaney for second while Keselowski had incurred the ire of Hamlin racing for seventh. These episodes smoothed themselves out, and the race stayed green until a lap 346 yellow flag flew for debris. Truex and crew held the lead off pit road and kept it until lap 361, when Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch both got into an ugly spin exiting turn 4, collecting Johnson, DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 27, 2019
Cautions bred cautions, as the lap 373 restart lasted only four laps before Daniel Suarez brought out the yellow after cutting a tire getting caught up in the latest skirmish between Bowman and Bubba Wallace.
Truex continued to weather caution flags, the most significant of which flew on lap 459, when Logano spun in turn 1 after cutting a tire from contact with Hamlin on the frontstretch. The final restart came on lap 477 after a spin between Hemric and Michael McDowell, and though Byron was able to get close in the early laps of the run, Truex would comfortably score the victory.
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
Without context, besting Keselowski’s 446 laps led from the spring is impressive. But for Truex to be completely untouchable in the same playoff race that cost him a title a season ago, with a pit crew that won every single race off pit road, was a mic drop “come and take it” statement to the rest of the playoff field. The No. 19 is likely the Homestead favorite no matter what happens over the next two weeks.
Though Byron got a little erratic trying to run down Truex in the closing laps, the fact that Byron proved a top-five fixture and the flagship for Hendrick Motorsports in a Martinsville race was a tangible measuring stick of the progress Knaus is making with the No. 24 team. Just don’t call him a kid, otherwise, we’ll have to listen to NBC talk about it some more.
Blaney sustained momentum with a top-five finish at Martinsville despite playing bumper cars with teammate Logano during the early stages of the event and having Keselowski nearly spin him out after the lap 466 restart (Keselowski gave the spot back to Blaney on lap 469). For all the talk on Twitter of Blaney being treated as the bastard stepchild by his teammates, it’s worth noting that Blaney has the services of Keselowski’s No. 2 crew for the rest of the playoff run.
Call Kevin Harvick Max Scherzer, because despite having command of absolutely nothing with his race car seemingly all day, Harvick ground out a top-10 finish that kept his No. 4 team in the playoff chase despite as off a day as Happy has had on a short track. With Phoenix still on the slate, Harvick saved the season finishing seventh.
Along with some A-level Twitter game exploiting their school bus paint scheme, Ryan Newman played the “stop sign” role to perfection, scoring a top-10 finish despite starting 35th.
David Ragan made the most of his final start at Martinsville, scoring an 11th-place run that was his best ever for Front Row Motorsports and his best overall since the 2015 spring race. Chevrolet’s bullpen delivered strong results, with Chris Buescher finishing 12th and both Wallace and Hemric scoring top-20 results despite their in-race incidents.
Though he was unable to race this weekend, want to send a get well soon to Matt Tifft, who was hospitalized earlier this week and forced to sit out the weekend’s race. For Tifft, such a setback is unfortunate given his history, but give the man credit for being on his A-game tweeting Sunday’s race.
I didn’t do it @RossChastain 😬😬
— Matt Tifft (@matt_tifft) October 27, 2019
Keselowski’s third-place finish had to have the No. 2 team kicking themselves for the egg they laid at Kansas last week. His top-five finish was saved for last…
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
Because Keselowski was the first of the Penske duo to get inside Hamlin’s head at his best track. Keselowski so angered Hamlin in the closing laps that the No. 11 visibly overdrove turn 3 trying to put a bumper to the No. 2, allowing Keselowski to best Hamlin when the checkers flew. More noteworthy though, a cheeky slap thrown post-race by Logano (who Hamlin put in the wall earlier in the race) triggered Hamlin to go after his long-time rival, sparking a physical altercation that ended with Hamlin getting tackled to the ground.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 27, 2019
All the talk of 2019 being the year of a new Hamlin went out the window with that scuffle. Though Hamlin could win comedy awards for his impression of Logano, two facts remain: that Hamlin again lost his cool racing with the Penske duo and that the temperamental Denny, for all his talent, still hasn’t won the title that both Keselowski and Logano have. Coupled with a pit crew that lost the No. 11 seven spots over the first two pit stops Sunday, this was about the worst fourth-place finish a Cup team could have.
Despite having a car strong enough to move from 38th to eighth over a single stage, the broken axle left Elliott with a 36th-place finish that was his worst at Martinsville since 2015, leaving the No. 9 in a must-win situation over the next two weeks. Look for questionable yellows aplenty come Texas.
Bowyer had a strong car that ran as high as second before the pit crew made a bad situation worse when they opted to change left-side tires only under green on lap 249 when the flat was on the right side. Bowyer eventually finished 35th with a broken track bar.
The Kyle Busch/Almirola incident on lap 361 was symptomatic of a bad day for both drivers. For Rowdy, despite Joe Gibbs Racing having potent Toyotas again, his day was lost scuffling with drivers outside the playoffs. As for Almirola, though he had strong words for Rowdy (threatening to make the next three weeks a “living hell” for the No. 18), in wrecking the way he did he pulled a Byron trying to mess with Kyle Busch.
After a bad Truck race Saturday with the latest ECU issue to plague ThorSport’s F150s, Crafton proved unable to improve the performance of Tifft’s No. 36, getting lapped within the first 30 laps and finishing 25th.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News – Inside the Playoffs
Austin Hill and Grant Enfinger at Chicagoland. Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick at Kansas. Now it’s Logano and Hamlin. Get NASCAR’s drivers a Netflix account and some time with Arrested Development… ”No Touching” needs to get through.
Visible in the garage when Elliott was parked for repairs was that members of several other Hendrick Motorsports teams were aiding in the work, raising a very pertinent question.
#NASCAR has responded to my clarification request and according to them helping out a teammate in the garage is okay and not against the roster limit.
Which now begs the question, what is the roster limit for?
— TobyChristie.com (@Toby_Christie) October 27, 2019
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Hendrick camp is the poster child for this latest crew wrinkle, as Chad Knaus and Johnson won the 2010 championship after stealing (borrowing) Jeff Gordon’s pit crew mid-race at Homestead. That practice has trickled down (see above about Blaney and Team Penske). What’s trickling down now from this clarification from NASCAR is that owning more cars is a literal competitive advantage, not just a source of efficiencies. Given this system, what’s to stop a Hendrick or a Penske or a Gibbs from stuffing additional crew members onto the pit crews of backmarker race teams with the understanding that they abandon their rides to work on the flagship cars when the Elliotts of the world break down? It’s abundantly clear that this roster-shaving is more the haves protecting themselves from new competition.
Capitalizing on recent memorable races including Logano/Kenseth 2015, Hamlin/Elliott 2017 and Logano/Truex 2018, NASCAR remade the 2020 schedule to make Martinsville a true centerpiece, with a first-time night race leading into the All-Star break and a fall race as the final cutoff before the title fight. Those efforts are moot if the racing at Martinsville isn’t fixed, immediately.
Start from an objective numbers perspective. Keselowski and Truex combined to lead 910 of 1,000 laps run at the track this season. Frontstretch alum Nick Bromberg pointed out a very disturbing statistic during the early stages of Truex’s dominant run, with Truex’s pass of Larson and his old tires on lap 260 marked the first green-flag pass for the lead on the paper clip in a near-eternity:
The last on-track pass for the lead at Martinsville happened on lap 325 … of the spring race.
That’s a span of over 385 laps and counting.
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) October 27, 2019
Another Frontstretch alum in Matt Weaver (who wrote a stellar observations piece on the circus at Kansas a week ago that’s well worth a read) provided a solid easter egg regarding polesitter Hamlin, who confirmed what many have observed that the package has fixed intermediate ovals at the cost of NASCAR’s more unique ovals (Martinsville, Dover and Richmond all come to mind):
Denny Hamlin said it best a few weeks ago when he told me, "This package has made intermediates more entertaining, no doubt about it. But we don't need a drafting spoiler for Martinsville and the road courses."
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) October 27, 2019
It’s admirable that NASCAR tried to make the package as uniform possible given that we’re racing a Gen-6 car that will be extinct come 2021. But killing some of the banner races on the schedule in the years leading up to the Gen-7 into 2021 is going to derail both momentum for that car and for the schedule changes that were made and well-received earlier this year. Weaver has often said a mediocre short track race will top a good intermediate race. This package doesn’t put on mediocre short track races, but it puts on parades. If it’s really too much of a hassle to let the Cup guys run with shorter spoilers on their shorter tracks, just let them rent Trucks and race them.
No matter how good the No. 9 was before the rear end failed, that Elliott was able to overcome starting at the rear on a track that’s hard to pass on and score points in stage 1 is the latest example that starting in the rear isn’t really a penalty anymore. Either NASCAR needs to give the penalty teeth and ban those starting at the rear from scoring stage points, or maybe going the Bowman Gray route and giving drivers the option to start at the rear for some sort of bonus is the way to go. Either way, if I’m a crew chief I’m no longer living in any fear of adjusting on my car after qualifying, or whenever I damn well please.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News – Outside the Playoffs
Anyone that follows me on Twitter realizes I’ve been absent from the track since the summer sans a trip to Pocono. Full disclosure, I’ve got employers other than Frontstretch and they pay me a lot more… so when they say stay close to home, that’s what I do. That’s made me quite familiar with race telecasts and the perspective they provide to viewers that will always be the vast majority of NASCAR’s audience, even if the grandstands are sold out and full staffing from Frontstretch to FOX Sports jam the media centers and press boxes.
More full disclosure. I was among the throngs quipping for a debris caution on social media during the yawn-inducing middle of Sunday’s race. And yes, I was upset when that caution came on lap 346, and NBC’s telecast never bothered to show the debris. This isn’t a case of making fun of Rick Allen’s latest lap miscount. For all the joking, if the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and Kansas have taught us anything, it’s that debris cautions directly impact NASCAR competitions. So if the debris is significant enough to stop a playoff race and erase a front runner’s lead, it’s significant enough to show on screen. Especially on the shortest track on the circuit.
Another significant error from NBC came post-race when it was reported that Logano, and only Logano, had been summoned to the NASCAR hauler after the fight with Hamlin. Twitter later clarified this wasn’t the case (fortunately). Full disclosure, NBC may have corrected this themselves later in their post-race coverage, but I turned it off after getting into slow-motion analysis of Logano’s bitch-slap.
Cautions flew on Sunday for Bowyer (twice) and Suarez despite their cars being moving forward and turned the right direction on the track. I guess that’s one way to try to keep drivers from spinning themselves out for a yellow, though, Logano did that anyway? The only thing more consistent in NASCAR than Martinsville being on the schedule is inconsistency in officiating.
Our own Michael Massie pulled quite the nugget from spring race winner Keselowski this weekend regarding his car from that race.
Reminds me of the @JeffGordonWeb T-Rex car story
— Michael Massie (@m_massie22) October 26, 2019
Why mention this? Because while the Penske cars did appear to be missing a step from the spring (albeit a small one), Truex’s Toyota was every bit as untouchable as the No. 2 in April, while spring runner-up Elliott made up 30 spots on-track in one stage before being derailed by a broken axle. Maybe there’s something to the notion that NASCAR’s technical bulletins are doing achieving something other than parity.
Discretion was not in the vocabulary for a number of NASCAR’s Truck Series regulars this weekend at Martinsville. Despite an extremely strong effort Saturday, Chastain played a bit too rough to score the win in the closing laps, and that carried over Sunday when unnecessary contact with Hemric less than 30 laps into the event damaged his No. 15 machine.
Todd Gilliland was lacking in a different kind of discretion, celebrating his first career win by profanely calling out his Truck owner:
— Luis Torres (@TheLTFiles) October 26, 2019
While Gilliland it could be argued showed some stones calling out a man that’s belittled his job performance for nearly all of 2019, profanely calling out one’s employer, especially when they’re more talented and the franchise driver for the OEM that provides equipment for his father’s DGR-Crosley team that he’ll likely be relying on for a ride next year, was immature and short-sighted. It may not be great for NASCAR, but this episode is probably a crystal clear example of why Harrison Burton got promoted for delivering less in a KBM truck this season.
Best Paint Scheme: Corey Lajoie. Halloween or not, not every driver could do this ride justice. Good stuff.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 26, 2019
Talk is Cheap Admonition – Tweeting about Martinsville Speedway and their famous, artery-clogging hot dogs (including a hot dog emoticon) with clean hands ought to be a crime.
— Jessie Punch (@jpunch15) October 27, 2019
For once, Rutledge Wood set an example for NASCAR media to follow when it comes to the hot dog.
Official Meeting Place of the Matt Kenseth Fan Club: Martinsville Speedway.
— Matt de Simone 🦅 (@_MattdeSimone) October 27, 2019
No wonder the same fans that eviscerated Hamlin last year for roughing up Elliott were lauding him post-race.
Where It Rated: I gave Martinsville the benefit of the doubt after Keselowski whipped the field in the spring, as any race track will at some point see a dominant driver stink up the show. Two straight races of near-record dominance up front? This package is broken at Martinsville. This race gets one lukewarm hot dog, not colored pink, served without chili and slaw in a styrofoam box. NASCAR’s baddest track has been anal probed by a mile-high spoiler.
What’s the Points(s): By winning the First Data 500, Truex has locked himself into the final four at Homestead. Leaving Martinsville, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Logano would be racing for the Cup. Logano currently holds a 14-point lead over Harvick for the final spot in the top four.
Dust Off the VCR: NASCAR leaves the short tracks behind three weeks before the end of the season to tackle the Texas Motor Speedway. Coverage from the lone star state begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.