At Martinsville’s version of the ‘paper clip’, NASCAR’s elite made their own history at one of the most storied tracks on the circuit. Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray both made their 300th starts of their careers and iron man Mark Martin made his 800th start of his career.
Here is what was surprising and not surprising in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Surprising: It’s not often when the duel for the second place finish is one of the most surprising, and exciting, moments of the entire race. But this second place competition just happened to be between NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and one of the sport’s rowdiest drivers Kyle Busch. Junior prevailed by the slightest of margins, less than 0.020 of a second.
Both the driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet and the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota had great points days, with Junior climbing four spots to eighth and Busch taking the points lead.
Not Surprising: Now officially able to relinquish his former nicknames of ‘Happy’ and the ‘Bakersfield Basher’, Kevin Harvick, this week in his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, can most decisively claim the nickname ‘The Closer.’ Harvick is the first repeat winner of the season and has now won back to back races in decisive passes late in the race.
“Just an awesome day,” Harvick said. “I didn’t think we had the car to do that. I had a lot of fun racing with Dale Jr. and I hate to be the bad guy, but we’re in it to win it.”
Surprising: The two dominant drivers of past Martinsville races were not the ones battling for the lead this year. With 34 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, made an uncharacteristic mistake, entering the pits too fast. He was forced to the tail end of the field, finishing in the 11th position.
Denny Hamlin, oft the master of Martinsville, was one of the first to get to pit road, which bit him late in the race. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota had to take a wave around on Lap 473, relegating him to a 12th place finish.
Not Surprising: To no one’s surprise, four-time Cup champion and seven time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon had a strong day, finishing fifth in the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. With his good run, Gordon also surpassed the ‘King’ Richard Petty and took the fourth spot in the all-time laps led category.
“We did have a great day,” Gordon said. “We weren’t great at the beginning but we worked our way up. It was an awesome day to drive to fifth there at the end.”
Surprising: The number of changing lanes before reaching the start finish line penalties, affectionately known as the ‘David Ragan faux pas’ after his Daytona mistake cost him the win, was definitely surprising. Penalized were Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, and Tony Stewart.
It took Kenseth almost half the race to right his wrong. At the end of the day, Kenseth was able to salvage a sixth place finish in his No. 17 Crown Royal Ford.
Martin was also able to redeem himself, finishing 10th in his No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. Martin is now officially the eighth driver to reach the level of 800 starts in his racing career.
The driver who came out on the short end of the changing lanes penalty stick was Tony Stewart. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet finished a miserable 34th, several laps down.
Not Surprising: Short tracks usually equal short tempers and that was definitely the case at Martinsville. Several drivers were unhappy with one another for the bumping, beating and grinding that occurred during the hard racing.
Most notably was Paul Menard, who had been leading the charge for his new Richard Childress Racing team, only to get into it with Robby Gordon.
Menard said that Gordon brake-checked him “out of apparent retaliation,” putting a hole in the radiator of the No. 27 NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet. Menard finished 38th, falling six spots to 13th in the point standings.
Another byproduct of the hard racing that had tempers flaring was the usually unflappable Aussie Marcos Ambrose, who was definitely angry with Michael McDowell.
“I don’t know what McDowell was thinking,” Ambrose said. “I got stuck on the outside and lost 20 positions just trying to get to the bottom and he just jacked me up and put me in the fence around lap 100. It was uncalled for and made for a very long day.”
Surprising: At a short track like Martinsville, big wrecks are not the norm. But there was a monster of a hard hit when Martin Truex, Jr. lost his brakes and pummeled himself into the wall, taking innocent bystander Kasey Kahne with him.
The hit was so intense that the race had to be red flagged while repairs were made to the safer barrier. Thankfully the drivers of both the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota and the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota were able to walk away from the incident.
“I thought, oh man, this is going to hurt,” Truex said of the wreck. “Thanks to NASCAR and everybody who built the SAFER barriers. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Not Surprising: As loud as the Truex/Kahne wreck was, in contrast the quietest mover in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 was Juan Pablo Montoya. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet started in the 27th position and, without fanfare, worked his way towards the front to finish fourth. JPM is also quietly working his way up the leader board, advancing one position to seventh in the point standings.