The Outlaw goes from outhouse to penthouse at Martinsville
In a Nutshell: The pendulum swing of both 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup races and Kurt Busch's racing career swung high in Sunday's STP 500. Busch's No. 41 Haas Automotion Chevy duked it out with Jimmie Johnson (2nd), who led a race-high 296 laps, each passing the other multiple times in the closing laps. In the midst of lapped traffic, Busch swung low of former foe and fellow champion Johnson to take the lead for the final time with just a few laps remaining. Johnson dug hard into the corners trying to get to the No. 41's bumper again and again, but Busch held on to the lead to end an 83-race winless streak. This was career win number 25 and his second Martinsville. The race saw the field tilled again and again, with many comers and goers throughout the day. Kyle Busch (14th) started on the pole and led some laps early, but quickly fell back on the hard-to-navigate outside line and never entered the top 10 again. His teammate Denny Hamlin (19th), in his return after missing last week's Fontana race with metal in his eye, also got some airtime out front, but fell back with handling and electric problems and also barely entered the top 10 the rest of the way. Their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth (6th) led some laps and stayed out with Tony Stewart (17th) when others pitted near the race's midway point. That move knocked both off of the lead lap on their old tires. Kenseth never had great handling the rest of the day, but did get back on the lead lap and raced into the top 10. Stewart never really recovered. Jeff Gordon (12th) looked racy early on, but lost the handle and ran 20th most of the race. A start to the race saw the leaders' slow start accordion all the way through the field and damage several cars, including rookie Parker Kligerman (41st), who spent significant time in the garage. There were cautions left and right, mostly single-car spins into the wall, but there were some tempers. An early pit road incident, saw Kasey Kahne (22nd) check up entering his pit as Brad Keselowski (38th) was exiting his. As they made contact, Kurt Busch drove by on Keselowski's outside and ran into the No. 2 Ford's right side, tearing up Keselowski's suspension and sending that car to the garage. Keselowski rejoined the race with the front of the car cutoff, drove around in front of Busch giving him the bird for a couple of laps and then rammed his side. Busch thought his car was done for the day and exploded on his radio, but he regained his composure and drove back to the front. Keselowski was fuming after the race and said he'd fight Busch if he left Victory Lane. Keselowski also spun Martin Truex Jr. (21st) on lap 412 and said later on Twitter that Truex Jr. got loose, he went under him, and they made contact. Other notable cars that had issues included Carl Edwards (13th), who spun to bring out the race's final caution on lap 460. That yellow cost Clint Bowyer (9th) a chance at his first win since 2012, as the No. 15 team had a bad final pit stop and restarted the last restart in 10th. They had just passed Johnson for the lead before that. Kyle Larson (27th) had an impressive first half of the race, but spun by himself after driving into the top 5 earlier - he never recovered. The top 10 were Busch, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (led some laps and was in top 10 most of the day), Joey Logano (led 39 laps and overcame a slow pit stop to finish well), Marcos Ambrose (strong all day), Kenseth, Kevin Harvick (struggled all day, but was good late), Aric Almirola (strong most of day in the STP car), Bowyer, and Paul Menard (had a clean day). Busch's win makes him the 6th different driver to collect a victory in the first six races.
RaceTweet: Kurt Busch ends big winless streak and overcomes Keselowski scrum to win The Paperclip. He finally gets Johnson's goat, Earnhardt Jr. strong again.
Handsome Boy Modeling School "Stud of the Race": Jimmie Johnson - He had a perfect race, easily leading the most laps and driving the right way. Kurt Busch made the move of the race to win, but Johnson was the driver of the day and had the best car.
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin - Both led laps and started well, but took no time to be non-contenders most of the day. Something is amiss at Joe Gibbs Racing, as Kenseth is really the only driver and team in the stable that is running well consistently, despite Busch's win last week.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Matt Kenseth - On the other side of the coin from his teammates, Kenseth can stage some kind of comeback at short tracks (remember Bristol?). He fell from the lead, to 27th, when crew chief Jason Ratcliff kept him out on old tires. They got the free pass two yellow flags later and even got damage to the right front during that time. But Kenseth never lost his cool and drove back into the top 10. On a track with one groove, that ain't half bad.
Wheel of Misfortune: Parker Kligerman - The No. 30 team has yet to run a full race, essentially. After wrecking at Daytona, having engine issues at Phoenix and Vegas, getting crash damage at Bristol, and wrecking out at Fontana, the rookie isn't getting the on-track experience he needs. This race saw Kligerman in the pileup on lap one, sending him to the garage and dozens of laps down the whole day.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: A.J. Allmendinger - For the second week in a row, Allmendinger was a fringe contender. The No. 47 stayed out with Earnhardt Jr. on old tires midway through the race. The cautions fell often enough to make that work, though different pit stops shuffled Allmendinger to the back of the top 20 a couple of times. Allmendinger persevered and drove to 11th, after running 8th last week at Fontana. Allmendinger finished a career-high 2nd at Martinsville when he drove for Penske in this race in 2012.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Brad Keselowski - Much as most of us love a good episode of on-track revenge, but Keselowski's shake down of Busch conflicted his thoughts on that type of thing. Remember the media center meltdown Keselowski had at Phoenix in fall 2012, when he cursed Jeff Gordon's wrecking Clint Bowyer intentionally? He had every right to be mad, but could have made a big mess with Busch and, even worse, ignored his own advice to not do such a thing. Nonetheless, the showdown was something fun to watch.
TruckSeriesRaceTweet: Matt Crafton survives several late restarts to win Martinsville. Lots of contact with young rookies. Long ride home for Red Horse Racing.
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan ran well early in the STP 500, showing as high as 21st. But a green flag pit stop put the No. 34 down multiple laps and doomed his day to a 28th place finish. Reed Sorenson was never a factor, was lapped early, but did get some quick TV time as the leaders lapped him for the 8th time just before the finish. The No. 36 placed 34th. Georgia drivers did show well in the Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250, as John Wes Townley ran as high as 3rd. But he got hooked on the last lap and wrecked, finishing 20th. Young Brandon Jones spent much of the race in the top 10, but got shuffled back to 15th at the end.
Next: Now the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series move to Texas Motor Speedway. The Cup Series races Sunday at 3:15 p.m. on FOX and PRN. The NNS runs Friday night at 8:30 on ESPN2 and PRN. The Trucks are off until the May race weekend at Kansas Speedway.