With NASCAR legend and Hall of Famer Junior Johnson giving the command to get the action started and a grandfather clock trophy on the line, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 65th annual Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville Speedway.
Surprising: Jeff Gordon had some pretty surprising thoughts in the waning laps of the race as he battled with Matt Kenseth for the race lead at Martinsville and then motored on to Victory Lane.
“I was thinking, what would Jimmie Johnson do?” the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet said. “Or better yet, maybe what would Richard Petty do?”
“I was just hoping that no cautions were going to come out and they didn’t,” Gordon continued. “That clock, there’s nothing better than getting a clock at Martinsville.”
This was Gordon’s first win of the season and his 88th victory in his career, tying him with Jimmie Johnson and trailing only Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip on the all-time wins list at Martinsville.
And with the win, Gordon climbed two spots in the all-important point standings to third, now 27 points behind the leaders.
Not Surprising: While the inside lane was definitely the preferred one at Martinsville, the outside lane seemed especially cursed during this seventh race of the Chase at the short track.
“It’s just the nature of the beast here,” Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota said. “That’s how important it is to get to the inside on these restarts.”
“You’d better get your business done quick,” Bowyer continued. “If you don’t, within two corners you’re in trouble because they’re stacked up on the bottom.”
Bowyer survived the curse of the outside lane to finish third, his tenth top-10 finish in 16 races at Martinsville Speedway.
Surprising: While Matt Kenseth was surprisingly confident at a track where he has no wins, only three top fives and a 15th best driver rating of 80.5, his confidence did indeed bear fruit, with a runner up finish in his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota and a bump back up in the Chase standings.
“I felt like today was an opportunity to get the points lead back,” Kenseth said. “I know Jimmie (Johnson) is always the man here, and he’s still the man here along with Jeff (Gordon) and Denny (Hamlin) for sure.”
“I haven’t had that many good runs here, but we ran good in the spring, we were terrific at Loudon which has always been my worst track and this has probably been my second-worst track, and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the whole group at JGR gave us such good cars to drive.”
“I couldn’t be much happier, but I am disappointed I got beat there at the end,” Kenseth continued. “I feel like we can go do some racing here in the next three weeks.”
With his good finish, Kenseth actually tied Jimmie Johnson for the point’s lead, however, has the advantage due to his number of overall wins.
Not Surprising: Tempers abound at any short track so it was not surprising that some apologies were due, some were made, and some will remain to be made potentially in the upcoming week as a result of the Martinsville race.
Kevin Harvick, behind the wheel of the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, made several apologies, first to Ty Dillon for his harsh words after the Truck race and then to Ryan Newman for hitting him during the Cup race.
“Yeah, first thing I want to do is apologize to Ryan Newman,” Harvick said after finishing sixth. “I tried to shoot in a gap there and just barely clipped the right rear of his car.”
Carl Edwards also acknowledged that he owed a few apologies after a ‘terrible’ day at the race track.
“I caused the first two cautions when the car was real hard to drive on entry,” the driver of the No. 99 Geek Squad Ford said. “I felt bad about that.”
“The car was real, real loose in and that was the reason I hit Kvapil there like that,” Edwards continued. “I’m going to apologize to him right now.”
There were two drivers, however, who were in no way, shape or form in the apologizing mode, at least after the race ended.
“We made contact, but I couldn’t quite understand why he was down here pulling on my collar like he just did,” Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, said after his pit road interview was interrupted by a visibly upset Greg Biffle.
“You knocked my (expletive) back bumper off mother (expletive)”, the driver of the No. 16 3M Ford said to the five time champ after finishing ninth. “You (expletive) ran into the back of me.”
“Dude, if you want to talk about it, let’s talk about it” Johnson said during the exchange.
“We just did,” Biffle countered as he walked away after being separated from Johnson by a NASCAR official.
Surprising: Brad Keselowski finally had a surprisingly good day, with his career best finish, fourth place, at Martinsville Speedway. And with that, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford said that he took the checkered flag exactly where he thought he had a car to do so.
“It was a decent day,” Keselowski said. “We weren’t where we wanted to be at the start, but we worked on our car and got it better at the end.”
“The last run was by far the most competitive we were and had probably about a fourth or fifth-place car and that’s where we finished at the end,” Keselowski continued. “It was a solid effort.”
Not Surprising: Chevrolet yet again secured the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup manufacturer’s championship and did so even with three more races left in the season.
This was the 37th manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet and the eleventh year in a row taking the honors. This was also the 16th win of the season for Team Chevy.
“To wrap it up with a win, with a great, exciting finish battling it out with a Toyota (the No. 20 driven by second-place finisher Matt Kenseth) is awesome,” Jeff Gordon said. “I know how much that means to Chevrolet.”
Surprising: In spite of his record setting qualifying effort, putting his No. 34 Taco Bell Ford in P8 in time trials, engine woes bit David Ragan and he finished dead last with a broken valve spring.
The driver, however, found the bright spot in his surprisingly bad finish with the positive evolution of his team over this past season, from testing to better work coming from the shop.
“We’ve built some new cars in-house and that’s doing the chassis work, the body work and building the components, so we’ve really evolved a lot,” Ragan said. “We’ve done it from within and I think long-term that’s a big positive for the whole Front Row Motorsports team.”
Not Surprising: Denny Hamlin, traditionally strong at Martinsville and pole sitter for the race, not surprisingly scored another top-ten run in his No. 11 FedEx One Rate Toyota, even with some damage incurred from one of the race’s early wrecks.
And with that finish, Hamlin pronounced the team as finally going in the right direction after a very difficult season.
“We ran decent,” Hamlin said. “Even though the car drove as bad as it did, we still were able to be at least somewhat competitive.”
“Seventh isn’t what we like here at Martinsville, but still it’s a step in the right direction,” Hamlin continued. “We’re just trying to get our feet under us.”
“Then that’s going to set us up pretty good for next year.”
Surprising: Sticking with the theme of blown engines, another one bit one of NASCAR’s most promising young drivers Kyle Larson who blew up for the second race in a row. The driver of the No. 51 Target Chevrolet suffered the mechanical issue on lap 165, spinning in his own fluid and bringing out the caution.
“We just can’t seem to catch a break in these two Cup starts that I’ve had,” Larson said. “We blew up in Charlotte and not sure we had a rear end blow up here or what.”
Larson’s day went from bad to worse as he tweeted after the race.
“What a bad last couple of hours. Engine blew up, got a speeding ticket, now my cat just puked and pooped in the car.”
Not Surprising: Kurt Busch admitted right up front that he does not have Martinsville Speedway circled on his calendar. And the track again was a struggle yet again for him as he finished 18th with a banged up race car.
“We didn’t qualify well (19th), didn’t practice well and obviously didn’t race well,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet said. “I don’t know what it is but there’s something about this track that doesn’t suit me.”
“It was a very disappointing performance today,” Busch continued. “Our Furniture Row Chevrolet got banged up early when it took a big hit to the right side.”
“But no excuses, we just didn’t have it.”
The Cup Series next heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500, the eighth race in the Chase.