Race Capsule: Busch cleans clocks at Martinsville
Kyle Busch claimed victory in Sunday's STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the first at the .5-mile track in his Sprint Cup career and on the heels of his Camping World Truck Series victory Saturday - his first NASCAR win at the sport's only venue from its inaugural season. He dominated, but there was a select list of contenders chomping at the bit to make off with the iconic grandfather clock trophy.
Flag to Flag: Joey Logano (finished 11th) started on the pole for the 500-lap, 250-mile affair, but fell back quickly - even lapped by the end of the first long run of the race. Logano ceded the lead on lap 22 to Paul Menard (8th), whose surprising 4th place starting spot kept him in contention most of the race. But Menard soon gave way to Ky. Busch 10 laps later, a lead Busch would not ever lose touch
Matt Kenseth (15th) and Kevin Harvick (17th) would be the only other drivers to lead on the day, doing so for 45 and 72 laps respectively, in short spurts. But each time at the point ceded way to the fast No. 18 of Busch's.
Drivers struggled through the day as the Goodyear tire rubber did not take to the cool track very well, making for less grip. A lower gear ratio meant drivers had to use their ever-important brakes differently in the tight corners. And any driver stuck on the outside line simply could not make any ground and normally lost lots of spots quickly, as the inside line is easily the fastest way around the paperclip-shaped track.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (14th) got stuck on the outside line and turned by David Ragan (21st) on lap 6, bringing the first yellow flag. Earnhardt Jr. lost a lap with a flat tire, but drove hard and finally back on the lead lap by virtue of a free pass on lap 313. A questionable caution for Josh Wise nearly spinning out got Earnhardt Jr. back on the lead lap.
Five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin (39th) was running 5th when he wheel-hopped his car on lap 221 and nailed the outside wall, ending his day. Hamlin said he was embarrassed
The tension began to rise in the late
But Busch decided against helping the nearly equal car of Kenseth's on the final restart and jumped to a quick lead.
The top 10 were Ky. Busch; Allmendinger; Kyle Larson (ran top 10 much of the day and was the highest-finishing driver who had pitted on the final caution); Dillon (drove into the top 10 and drove aggressively to stay there); Keselowski (rebounded from speeding penalty and never derailed by bad nose and rear end damage on the car); Carl Edwards (fell quickly a lap down and did not get back on the lead lap until lap 385); Brian Vickers (started in the top 10 and stayed there and out of trouble most of the day); Menard (similar day to Vickers', though he led 10 laps); Johnson (never could get to the front, but was faster than his finish); and Ryan Newman (toiled a lap down in the back of the top 20 most of the race, then found himself slicing through the field for a decent finish at the end).
True, this STP 500 was not an extremely exciting race. But positions changed left and right and some different names got time near the top of the scoring pylon. Short track racing is what NASCAR is all about. And no, none of the potential rivalries from Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago traveled cross-country to the mountains. That was just as well, as this race had excitement and clean, good, hard racing.
RaceTweet: Kyle Busch dominates the weekend and wins first Martinsville race ahead of surprising Allmendinger.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kyle Busch - see everything above and combine the fact that his pit crew got him out either first or second almost every stop. As often as positions changed behind him, Busch found his way to the front and stayed there when he got there. Winner.
North Korean Missile Dud: Denny Hamlin - How is Hamlin not a favorite at one of his home tracks? He sped on pit road and still drove to the front, only to lose focus and wreck out to a 39th-place finish. Maybe he got to answer some email in all that downtime Sunday afternoon.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: A.J. Allmendinger - Really, Allmendinger's JTG-Daugherty team is not that much an underdog. They get support from Richard Childress Racing and have full-time sponsorship. But a 2nd-place finish is not the norm for the No. 47 team and Allmendinger drove like a bat out of hell to do it. They need to carry this momentum to more tracks to really be a serious Chase contender.
Ghost Driver: Trevor Bayne - None of the Roush Fenway cars had good days, but Bayne's was so non-descript, he just may not have been on TV one time. Bayne wrecked his primary car Friday and started the STP 500 32nd. The No. 6 Ford fell down a lap quickly and ended the day four circuits behind, 27th. Bayne is 24th in points, just one spot behind teammate Greg Biffle. If his ship doesn't right itself soon, 2016 will mirror 2015 in being a lost cause.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Brad Keselowski - This guy has a knack for driving back from speeding penalties. Keselowski drove bullishly to gobble up numerous
Wheel of Misfortune: Aric Almirola - The poor guy had not one, but three cylinders drop on the No. 43 Ford, before finally calling it a day just before halfway. The car moved like it had a stump tied behind it. Almirola has had fairly pedestrian finishes in the first five races of 2016, so this last place run in race six drops him from 13th, to 22nd in points.
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Austin Dillon - He had a great run Sunday
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: NASCAR's inconsistent officiating strikes again. Race director David Hoots, the man you hear on your race scanner throwing cautions and directing safety equipment, called for a caution on lap 313 when Josh Wise nearly got spun out by Martin Truex Jr. But Wise gathered up his slow Chevy and continued on without spinning. Still, NASCAR threw a caution and Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the free pass.
Later on, Jamie McMurray cut a tire, was dropping debris all over the track, and was off the pace and nearly in the way. The race stayed green for an extra lap or two until McMurray pretty much stopped on the track (a move incensing Chase Elliott and his No. 24 team, by the way, because McMurray was in the free pass spot right in front of them when the yellow came out and since McMurray brought out the yellow, no one got a free pass).
All three cases could have justified a yellow flag or justified keeping the race green. But NASCAR reacted differently on each one, seemingly letting the timing of a yellow flag influence the decision to wave one. As has been said in this space many times over, consistency is a bedrock for this sport's viability. Failure to do this erodes NASCAR's integrity not just to fans or outsiders looking in, but also to the drivers and teams. They can't say so now without fear of discipline, but the sport's players are not at all clear on how the dominoes will fall in each situation. This needs to change.
Georgia On My Mind: The Georgia gang struggled at "The Paperclip" this weekend. Chase Elliott started a promising 10th at the site of his Sprint Cup debut a year ago, but he fell out of the top 15 quickly and ran a lap down and near his 20th finishing position much of the day. Spotter Eddie D'Hondt constantly coached Elliott on not getting caught in the accordion effect in his line, when traffic would stop. He stayed out of trouble but had trouble gaining and keeping spots.
David Ragan had another decent run for BK Racing in the No. 23 Toyota, running inside the top 25 all race and finishing a lap down in 21st. He spent a decent portion of the race two laps
Reed Sorenson attempted his second NSCS race of the year, driving a second Premium Motorsports entry. Sorenson never had a fighting chance,
Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race was not memorable for John Wes Townley, as he both started and finished 21st - but at least on the lead lap.
Several other Georgia drivers seen in the first two NCWTS races did not attempt this race. Korbin Forrister and Lira Motorsports did not come to Martinsville; Austin Hill is running a limited schedule for his own team; MB Motorsports did not run with Garrett Smithley or Reed Sorenson, as they did at Atlanta and Daytona, respectively.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch has no problem with
Next: Texas Motor Speedway is the next NASCAR stop. The NSCS runs its first Saturday race of the year at 7:30 p.m. on FOX, PRN, and Sirius/XM Ch. 90. The Xfinity Series returns after a long break Friday night at 8:30 p.m. on FS1, PRN, and Sirius/XM. And the NCWTS takes another month off until Kansas Speedway in May. There have been five different winners in six Cup races this year, so picking a favorite may be tough Saturday.