Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the half mile track affectionately dubbed the “Paper Clip”:
Surprising: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. surprised and delighted the fans in the stands at Martinsville with strong runs, including Martin finishing in the runner up position and Earnhardt in seventh. Martin was undoubtedly the happiest driver at Martinsville, recovering from a close encounter with the wall on lap 226 to working his way back through the field to finish right behind the race winner. Earnhardt, while taking advantage of some pit strategy and a strong race car, actually led some laps, the first time since March 2008 when he had done so at Martinsville.
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Not Surprising: Although the other two Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon disagreed on the track, they agreed on one thing, their animosity toward the Busch brothers. Hearkening back to their disagreements at Sonoma earlier in the year, Gordon and Kurt Busch got into it, with Gordon getting the worst of the altercation, resulting in a hard encounter with the wall. Gordon went on to finish 20th, declaring his championship hopes all but lost. Johnson and Kyle Busch had their own difficulties, with Busch deeming it a “heated battle” and Johnson admitting that he took advantage of the opportunity to give the other Busch brother the “one-fingered salute.”
Surprising: While short tracks are known for creating even shorter tempers, the amount of aggression between drivers, especially teammates, was surprising to say the least. Teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon got into it early, beating and banging for position, causing the original four-time champ to “ask the 48 if he has a spotter.” Richard Childress Racing and Chase contenders Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton also got into some on-track pushing and shoving. While Harvick deemed it “just racing”, Burton begged to differ, saying “I’m a good teammate but I will not put up with him running into me.”
Not Surprising: Denny Hamlin, typically strong at Martinsville, became only the fifth driver to win at his home track. Although Hamlin struggled at the start of the race, falling back in the field after starting from the pole, he and his crew kept adjusting on the car throughout the race until the checkered flag flew. Hamlin won his third straight race and the season sweep at Martinsville, tightening up the championship battle to striking distance to just six points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also finished in the top ten, with Kyle Busch finishing fourth and Joey Logano finishing sixth.
Surprising: While Greg Biffle traditionally has not run so well on the short track in Virginia, it was surprising just how bad his race day was. Biffle, starting from the third spot, deemed the day “unfortunate”, having a right-front tire go down, which led to suspension troubles. Biffle also was penalized twice for pit road altercations, including having his pit crew go over the wall too soon. In spite of all the troubles, resulting in a 33rd place finish, Biffle put on a surprisingly happy face, saying “We qualified well and practiced well this weekend.”
Not Surprising: Kasey Kahne, who made headlines with his release from Richard Petty Motorsports, took the wheel of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. Kahne, running continually around his old No. 9 RPM Budweiser Ford now piloted by Aric Almirola, finished with a top-15 run and a hearty welcome from his new pit crew. Almirola, on the other hand, placed 21st, with his future, as well as the future of RPM, still uncertain.
Surprising: While most eyes were on the Chase racers, one young up and comer and soon to be Nationwide champion Brad Keselowski had a great short track run. In spite of a speeding penalty early in the race, Keselowski battled back to get his first top ten finish for the 2010 Cup season.
Not Surprising: AJ Allmendinger continued to show his strength, in spite of all of the chaos at his Richard Petty Motorsports team. Allmendinger finished the race in the 12th position, also marking the first time that he had finished all 500 laps at the track. “After everything this week, I’m just proud of my guys,” Allmendinger said emotionally.
Surprising: With a surprisingly strong run, in spite of causing a caution at lap 133, Kenny Schrader definitely deserves a “shout out”, as well as an “A” for effort. Schrader, making a rare Cup appearance in the No. 26 Air National Guard Ford, brought his race car in for a top-20 finish, scoring the 18th position.
Not Surprising: In spite of the “high stakes, high stress and a very, very small race track,” Carl Edwards admitted that it was “just a good day.” Edwards brought his No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion home in the eighth spot and gained one spot to sixth in the Chase standings.
The Cup Series will compete next, on Halloween no less, at the track that all agree is the wild card in this year’s Chase competition, Talladega Superspeedway. The seventh race in the 10-race Chase, the Amp Energy Juice 500, will take the green flag on Sunday, October 31 at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.