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Martinsville Madness

Joe Gibbs Racing simply dominated much of today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway and as the race neared conclusion it appeared that three teams would earn a finish in the top ten and at least one would certainly have the opportunity over the final laps to race for the famed grandfather clock trophy.

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Denny Hamlin would survive several on-track incidents to earn a solid fifth-place effort, but two separate late-race accidents would result in disappointing finishes for both Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

With qualifying rained out on Saturday the starting lineup was set based upon the current NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings. Hamlin would start the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota 11th and he quickly raced his way into the top ten, but an early accident would force him to check up and resulted in the need for four fresh tires. The early unscheduled stop would put him in the back of the field, but it did little to deter Hamlin, who drove his way back to the front and to the lead by lap 63. Hamlin, who is always considered a favorite at the famed short track known as the paper clip with four previous career victories, would once again prove strong while racing inside the top five most of the day. He would regain the lead again by lap 320 and lead a total of 58 laps on the day. The No. 11 Camry was in fourth when the race restarted with 81 laps remaining and Hamlin was able to remain in the top five despite a number of late cautions that resulted in several short runs. Hamlin, who had been the class of the field all day on the longer green flag runs, would not be able to gain ground on the leaders, but still managed to come home with a strong fifth-place effort.

Joey Logano started 22nd and would need every ounce of power from his No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota today as he battled short track racing style all day long. He would move inside the top 20 through the early going, but trouble would come on lap 149 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made contact with Logano’s left rear resulting in a spin into the wall. The Interstate Batteries team would do well to make quick repairs and Logano would return to the track just one lap down. He would manage to race his way into the lucky dog position, which would come during a lap 198 caution, and was once again inside the top 20 by the midpoint of the race. His No. 20 Camry would move from loose to extremely tight handling conditions however when his fender was found to be rubbing against his tire. He would drop two laps off the pace while battling the poor handling conditions prior to a caution coming out on lap 361. He would get one lap back by taking the wave around during a caution with just over 100 laps remaining and about 15 laps later another caution would award him the lucky dog position to put him on the lead lap. Logano and his Interstate Batteries team would make the most of earning their way back onto the lead lap as the No. 20 Camry drove through the field inside the top ten. He appeared assured of a finish inside the top ten and possibly even the top five, but contact on the final restart and a possible flat on his right front tire would send him quickly back through the field and result in an 18th-place finish.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Halloween Toyota sixth and was strong throughout the day as raced inside the top five for the majority of the day. He would lead for the first time by lap 40 and it was obvious that he had a car capable of competing for a win. In fact, by the midpoint of the race he had already led 125 laps, which would stand as the most laps led for the race. Busch would restart fifth with 81 laps remaining and was battling to make his way back toward the front of the field late when Matt Kenseth would make contact with the rear quarter panel of the No. 18 Camry on lap 464 to send it spinning into the wall in turn four. The damage was severe and although the M&Ms crew was able to make quick repairs the short track confines of Martinsville left Busch many laps off the pace by the time he returned to the track. He managed to finish the race, but the result was a disappointing 27th-place despite clearly having one of the strongest cars in the field.

Tony Stewart captured the victory, while Jimmie Johnson was second, Jeff Gordon third, Kevin Harvick fourth and Hamlin rounded out the top five. There were 17 cautions for a total of 120 laps, and 30 lead changes among 13 different drivers over the course of the 500-lap race.

Busch is now seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings 53 points behind the leader Carl Edwards with three races remaining. Meanwhile Hamlin remained 11th and is 80 points off the pace.

Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings
1. Carl Edwards 2273
2. Tony Stewart (-8)
3. Kevin Harvick (-21)
4. Brad Keselowski (-27)
5. Matt Kesenth (-36)
6. Jimmie Johnson (-43)
7. Kyle Busch (-57)
8. Kurt Busch. (-58)
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-73)
10. Jeff Gordon (-76)
11. Denny Hamlin (-80)
12. Ryan Newman (-89)

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Texas next week for eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The race will begin on Sunday, November 6 at 3 PM ET with live, high-definition coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 2 PM ET. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 90 and the PRN Radio Network.

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