Martinsville Race Report
Saturday’s rain at Martinsville Speedway washed the track clean of all the tire rubber that had accumulated from Friday’s practice sessions resulting in a unique race with team’s anticipating changing track conditions throughout the course of today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500.
When it was over Matt Kenseth led Joe Gibbs Racing with a sixth-place finish, while Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in 14th and Denny Hamlin battled to finish 19th.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the sixth position was strong through the early going as he raced his way toward the front and took the lead on lap 17. Although the handling of his car would move to the loose side the longer a green flag run lasted, he was able to maintain a spot inside the top ten and worked his way back to the front twice more to lead at lap 56 for a couple of laps and then again on lap 106. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would call for adjustments to help Kenseth turn his Dollar General Camry better in the turns and it appeared to work as he was able to regain the lead again on lap 195. He would get caught on the outside lane which proved to be a difficult place to race all afternoon and he dropped back to 10th before he had a chance to drop in line on the lower part of the track. A couple of quick cautions just prior to the halfway mark would bring Kenseth back down pit road for adjustments on lap 234. Only a few other cars also made the stop leaving Kenseth to restart 23rd. He would climb his way back toward the top 15 and was running 16th at halfway when another caution came out. He would remain out on the track and lined up to restart first on lap 258. With older tires than his competitors Kenseth would drop back once more on the next run. This time he would drop all the way back outside the top 25 and ultimately fell a lap down to the leaders. He would manage to race his way into the lucky dog position and the necessary caution came on lap 340 to put him back on the lead lap. Kenseth would feel a tire rub on the restart but fortunately a caution came out at the same moment allowing him to come down for fresh tires. He was running 24th on lap 400. Kenseth would get spun into his pit stall thanks to contact from the 99 car on lap 413 which put him in 23rd for a restart with 83 to go. The Dollar General Camry appeared to find its traction once again and he was back inside the top 15 running 14th with 50 to go. Kenseth would line up 11th on lap 465 following a round of pit stops under caution. He would put together a solid green flag run to the checkered flag to earn a sixth-place finish.
Busch earned his first career pole at Martinsville Speedway with a tremendous performance in his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota during Friday’s knockout qualifying session. Busch led the first 16 laps this afternoon before the clean race track led his Camry to become extremely loose shortly into the run. Busch would get back to the lead again on lap 59, but his car’s handling would continue to fall off the longer a run lasted. He would fall all the way back outside of the top 30 by the time the race reached the 150 lap mark. Crew chief Dave Rogers would make the call for major adjustments to the car and they appeared to assist Busch in his ability to turn the car in and out of the corners on the famed shorted track known as the paper clip. He would climb his way back inside the top 25 and was running 23rd on lap 200. Busch would patiently work his way forward and was back inside the top ten by lap 270. He would restart outside the top 15 again on lap 317 and was able to move into 13th before another caution flew on lap 340. He would restart ninth on lap 344, but continued to be plagued on the longer runs and was running 13th at lap 400. Busch would restart 11th for a restart with 83 to go but the handling issues persisted and he fell outside the top 15 once again. He would line up 16th on lap 465 following a round of pit stops under caution and managed to gain two spots over the final run to finish 14th.
Hamlin, who returned to the track after missing last week’s race in Fontana because of vision issues resulting from a small piece of metal in his eye, started his No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in the second position and was able to maintain a top ten spot through the first quarter of the race despite loose handling conditions. Hamlin was in the top five a quarter of the way into the race and was running third at lap 125 when he suddenly began to drop in the field with an apparent electrical issue. The situation appeared to resolve itself on the next run however and Hamlin was back inside the top 15 by lap 200. He would restart 10th on lap 225 and was up to seventh by the time the race was halfway. He was running 10th at the 300 lap mark and attempting to nurse his brakes because a windshield tear-off had stuck to one of his brake ducts. Martinsville is one of the hardest tracks on braking and overheated brakes could lead to failure. Fortunately the tear-off came off the front of his car and allowed Hamlin to continue to race without issues. He was in 15th when another caution came out on lap 340 and lined up 14th for the restart a few laps later. He would remain 14th on lap 400. Hamlin would line up 12th for a restart with 83 to go. He would jump into the top ten following the restart, but then was caught on the outside lane and fell several positions back through the field as he was blocked from getting down the track and into the lower lane. The outside lane proved to be a nearly impossible place to race all day as nobody’s car was able to hold the track in the corners. Hamlin would line up 18th on lap 465 following a round of pit stops under caution. He would go on to take the checkered flag in 19th.
Kurt Busch won the race, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Logano, and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five. There were 14 cautions for a total of 92 laps and 33 lead changes among 12 different drivers.