Martinsville in Review
Joe Gibbs Racing started all three cars in the top four and all three cars took their turn at the front of the field in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway. When it was over Matt Kenseth led the team with a second-place finish, while Denny Hamlin earned a top ten coming home in seventh and Kyle Busch battled late-race handling issues to finish 15th.
With three races remaining in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, Kenseth moved back into a tie with Jimmie Johnson for the lead in the point standings. Kyle Busch is now fifth in the standings 36 points behind the leaders.
Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in fourth place and was fast through the opening couple green flag runs as he managed to move to the front of the field and take the lead on lap 34. He would go on to lead the next 74 laps. The Dollar General Camry would lose a bit of its handling on the ensuing runs, but Kenseth was able to maintain a position inside the top five and he would regain the lead on lap 217. Just before halfway, the team would make the call to remain out on the track during a caution period while several others outside the top five came to get tires. Kenseth would restart first on lap 234, but struggled with loose conditions on the following green flag run and began to drop back in the field. He would run sixth on lap 250 and fell outside the top ten by lap 263. He would fall all the way back outside the top 15 before the next caution came out on lap 285. He would line up 18th for the restart on lap 290. He would make a return trip down pit road when another caution came out just a few laps later and was 21st for the restart on lap 304. Through a series of quick cautions Kenseth would climb his way back inside the top 15 and he lined up sixth for a restart on lap 342. Kenseth was back up in third place by lap 360 and was able to regain the lead following a restart with about 125 to go. He would continue to hold the lead until the next caution with 84 to go. He would maintain the lead through the pit stops and the ensuing restart and ran point before the 24 car was finally able to make a pass for the lead with just 20 laps remaining. Kenseth would earn a strong second-place effort after leading a race-high 202 laps and by finishing three spots in front of the 48 car he was able to regain a share of the points lead in the Chase for the Championship.
Hamlin earned his career-high fifth pole award of the season during Friday’s qualifying session and started the No. 11 FedEx One Rate Toyota at the front of the field. He would lead the first two laps this afternoon, but his Camry proved too tight and Hamlin was forced to give up the top spot. He would continue to struggle with the handling on his car through the first third of the race as he fell back outside the top 15. Hamlin would be involved in an accident on lap 182 when the field stacked up in front of him causing him to get into the back of the 5 car and damaging the right front of the FedEx machine. The team would bring him down pit road several times for repairs, but managed to keep him on the lead lap. And after restarting back in 25th he was able to climb his way back through the field and inside the top 10 by lap 215. He would line up fifth for a restart on lap 290. Hamlin was back into second place by the time another caution came out on lap 319. He would regain the lead on lap 338 when the leader pitted under caution and the FedEx team made the call to remain out. Hamlin would come off pit road first following a round of stops but the 55 car made the call to remain out on the track leaving him to restart on the outside lane which had proven to be a far from desirable place all afternoon. He would fall into third on the next run. Hamlin briefly took over second before settling back into the third position. He would restart fifth following a round of stops with 77 to go and went on to earn a solid seventh-place finish.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Halloween Toyota in the third position and was fast through the early portion of the race as he went to the front of the field to take the lead on lap 25. He would hold the lead for the next 12 laps, but found the handling on his Camry was a bit off on the next couple of runs as he drifted back outside of the top five. Busch was in the seventh position on lap 200. He would line up for a restart in the fourth position on lap 290. By the time another caution came out on lap 319 he was up to third. Busch would pit off sequence of many other leaders and lined up to restart outside of the top 20 on lap 342. He was back inside the top 15 by the time another caution came out on lap 366. He would line up 12th for the restart and was back inside the top 10 with 125 to go. He would line up seventh for a restart with 115 to go and was in eighth with 100 to go. The M&Ms Camry would lose its handling on the next run however and Busch would drop back to run 13th when the next caution came out with 84 laps to go. Following pit stops he would line up 11th for the restart with 77 to go. He would race his way back into the top ten initially, but his No. 18 Camry was not as strong on what proved to be a long green flag run to end the race and he would go on to finish 15th.
Jeff Gordon won the race, followed by Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five. There were a record 17 cautions for a total of 111 laps and 17 lead changes among eight different drivers.