By Pete Pistone
Goody's Fast Relief 500 Results
There were mixed reviews from fans after the first Sprint Cup Series short track race of the season two weeks ago in Bristol. But I have to think Sunday’s stop at the smallest track on the schedule got a resounding thumbs up pretty much across the board.
The bumping, banging, beating and angry drivers that some believe is missing from the reconfigured version of Bristol were front and center at Martinsville Speedway. Battered racecars were part of the landscape from nearly the drop of the green flag and for a second straight week a thrilling finish capped off the afternoon.
It did take a pretty long time to finally arrive at the dramatic conclusion, which saw Kevin Harvick continue to cement his reputation as the absolute best closer on the series today. In between some of the trips into the wall and cautions for other altercations, including a 25-minute red flag for a scary-looking crash between Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne, there were stretches of single file racing for laps on end.
Some of that can be attributed to the tire wear issue that reared up early in the weekend with the Goodyear rubber wearing out a lot quicker than anyone anticipated. As the temperatures rose, the track began to take more rubber and provide additional grip so what had the makings of being a potential disaster worked itself out.
The tension wound down to the final 50 laps when the circumstances shook things up to the sight of Dale Earnhardt Jr. knocking Kyle Busch out of the way to take the lead with only a handful of circuits remaining. The roar from the Martinsville grandstands reverberated throughout the state of Virginia and across the country as the sport’s reigning Most Popular Driver took aim at ending his 98 race winless streak.
But Kevin Harvick would have none of it and as he did last week in Fontana seemingly came out of nowhere to take the lead from Earnhardt and score a second straight win, ending the streak of different names in victory lane at five.
It was a satisfying ending to a long day at NASCAR’s oldest tracks once again proving that the best things sometimes take a little patience.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Even the harshest critics and skeptics have to be impressed by Earnhardt’s first six races of this season with Sunday’s near miss trip to victory lane the best example yet of how different 2011 is for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Crew chief Steve Letarte has made a pretty dramatic impact on the confidence and mental approach of his new driver. It’s apparent that it’s not just Junior’s psyche that has a new look to it this season.
Got moved out of the way by Earnhardt and tried to return the favor at the finish line for at least a second place finish but came up short. However kept his emotions in check and those expecting the return of the “old Kyle” did not see that response in his measured reaction and response to the turn of events after the race. Keeping a balance will be the key for Busch to challenge for the championship and after six races he just happens to be the point leader.
Juan Pablo Montoya
The tight Martinsville short track has oddly enough been a place for Montoya to shine in his NASCAR career. He did it again on Sunday with a Top 5 finish and another performance that is in line with the 2009 march to the Chase he put together with calculating crew chief Brian Pattie.
Kahne’s string of impressive runs to kick off the year came to a crashing halt Sunday with one of the hardest crashes in Martinsville Speedway history. A stuck throttle on Martin Truex Jr.’s ride forced the Michael Waltrip Racing driver to run into Kahne with both cars destroyed after their violent impact with the wall. Fortunately no one was injured but Kahne took also took a hit in the point standings.
Another week and more problems for the Daytona 500 winner. This time a hole in the radiator ended the Wood Brothers effort well before the midway point of Sunday’s race, a bitter pill to swallow but even more difficult to take at the storied organization’s home track.
Things have gotten a little sour of late for the Richard Childress Racing driver who has been such a pleasant early season surprise. Was bouncing off walls and cars on Sunday much of the afternoon finally damaging his machine hard enough just past the race’s midway point to take him from contention for any kind of a decent finish.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
"Thanks to NASCAR and everybody. Unbelievable. Ten years ago, I wouldn't be standing here."– Martin Truex Jr . after his hard crash with Kasey Kahne
"Somebody get the pen so they can write off this season." – Kurt Busch
Who the *&(@(#)# was that?'' – Marcos Ambrose after getting spun out by Michael McDowell
"I gotta piss like hell. I think I can make it to the end." – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"They're all kniving and carving and gouging each other's eyes out.'' – Tony Stewart
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 a four. It took awhile to heat up with too many cautions getting into the flow of the race in the early going. But the last 100 laps were full of drama, pit strategy, hard racing and for a second straight week a thrilling finish to put Martinsville back on the top of the heap of NASCAR’s short tracks so far in 2011.
DOWN THE ROAD
For the first time the Sprint Cup Series races under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday night. The annual spring date in the Lone Star State shifted to a prime time affair to avoid a head to head conflict with the final round of The Masters on Sunday afternoon. After last November’s rock ‘em sock ‘em Texas stop, adding in the bright lights may well spice up Saturday’s proceedings a little more.
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