UNOFFICIAL TUMS FAST RELIEF 500 RESULTS
TUMS Fast Relief 500
High emotions, hard feelings, tight racing, damaged race cars and a new chapter in the championship saga.
Yep, Sunday’s return trip to Martinsville Speedway had all that and a whole lot more.
After spending the previous weekend looking for partners and following team orders in Talladega, Sprint Cup drivers were left to decide things on their own in the second visit of the year to the shortest track on the schedule.
As is usually the case after the checkered flag waves at Martinsville there were more unhappy campers than those celebrating their day in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Tony Stewart made the happy list with his come back victory number three of the Chase, which put the man who declared himself out of the title picture back in August squarely into the championship contenders category.
And after falling two laps back Carl Edwards also came out of Martinsville with a giant smile, somehow working his way back into the top ten and hanging on to his Chase lead with only three races to go.
But the title race thinned out some when other Chasers were not as fortunate as Stewart or Edwards.
Matt Kenseth went from nearly leaving Virginia with the championship lead to barely hanging on to his view of the top after tumbling from second to fifth in the standings. Kenseth was a victim of at least two examples of the extremely rough driving that went on Sunday getting tangled first with Kyle Busch and then not once but twice with Brian Vickers.
“It’s disappointing,” said Kenseth who trails Edwards by 36 points. “I obviously did a poor job today. We were really bad on used tires if we had a restart like we were in practice and we kept getting the outside every time and that’s such a disadvantage on the outside, unless you have a real fast car, which we really didn’t. It was a struggle all day. Obviously, I didn’t make good decisions and we ended up in a bad spot.”
Kyle Busch’s twenty-seventh place finish and Brad Keselowski’s seventeenth place effort may have also wiped the duo from the championship race.
But the biggest name of all coming up short on Sunday was none other than five time champ Jimmie Johnson, who came within two laps of winning the race and maybe somehow starting a miracle run to the top of the standings yet again.
Johnson looked comfortably ahead until the day’s eighteenth caution, caused by one of many incidents involving Brian Vickers, bunched up the field and gave Stewart his shot to pass on the next restart for the win.
His runner-up effort left Johnson a full race behind Edwards at 43 points and for all intents and purposes ending his title reign, leaving the driver of the No. 48 wondering what might have been without the consequences Vickers’ intervention.
"I mean, I certainly understand that if you're unfairly wrecked, regardless of who that person is, there's a chance retaliation is going to happen," Johnson said. "After a fourth, fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking about maybe you're the problem. Something is going on – you're having a bad day.”
There was a lot of that going around on Sunday.
His come back in Kansas to start the month was just a warm-up to the magnificent rebound Edwards pulled off on Sunday. After starting from the pole thanks to qualifying being rained out and his position in the point standings, Edwards dropped like a rock and fell a lap down. But he fought back and stayed in it until the bitter end for a ninth place finish good enough to maintain the Chase lead.
He didn’t win the 200<sup>th</sup> race for Hendrick Motorsports as he so dearly wanted to coming into the weekend but Johnson turned in a nice effort in the wake of last week’s Talladega controversy. It’s now all but certain Johnson’s Sprint Cup title reign is over but I wouldn’t bet against the 48 being in the mix for wins over the final three races of the schedule.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Sunday’s performance may have been the most spirited by Earnhardt in several years. He felt he had a car capable of winning from the drop of the green flag and was not shy about showing some aggression on the race track. Earnhardt apologized a couple of times along the way when the 88 made hard contact with another car or two but he stayed positive to the end on his way to a seventh place run.
Looked like he would inherit the point lead late in the race when Kenseth was running inside the Top 5 and teammate Edwards was struggling. That was until he got into a scrap with Brian Vickers that damaged The No. 17 Ford severely enough to bring him to pit road where Kenseth fell several laps off the pace. And then Vickers added insult to injury by rear-ending Kenseth in a pile drive when he returned to the track.
Was on a torrid pace toward the front of the field and had his sights set on a Top 5 finish until Keselowski was punted in the closing laps and spun out. He sat trying to bring out a caution that never flew and was saddled with a 17<sup>th</sup> place finish that may very well have ended his Cinderella title hopes.
Was also on pace to come out of Martinsville with a stellar finish and climb closer to the top of the point standings before getting caught in a multi-car crash. Busch came to pit road for repairs but lost a wheel when lug nuts were not properly tightened and free fell to a 27<sup>th</sup> place finish.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
"I think if we raced at more short-tracks, I'd be considered a dirty driver. Hell, I can take it as well as I can dish it out." – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I want to thank Goodyear for bringing the #$%iest tires in the world for ruining racing...." – Kevin Harvick
"All right, I'm losing patience. Come on.” – Denny Hamlin
"We know we’re not having the best day. We'll get every point here.'' – Carl Edwards
"I felt like he took a cheap shot on me.'' – Jamie McMurray on Brian Vickers
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 a four. The final short track race of the season lived up to everyone’s expectations and provided a for the most part entertaining afternoon as well as a potent kick to the championship picture. The 18 cautions bogged down things at times and some drivers’ behavior bordered on the weekly short track hobby stock variety rather than the elite level of the sport. But you cannot argue with the flat out hard racing that punctuated most of the afternoon or the thrilling finish that pulled Stewart right back into the title race with only three races to go.
DOWN THE ROAD
The Chase dwindles down to the final trio of races and Sunday’s return trip to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500. Last year’s fall race at TMS was one for the ages with the Hendrick teams swapping pit crews in mid-race, Kyle Busch flipping not one but two birds to a NASCAR official on pit road and Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton getting into a scuffle on the backstretch after their tangle on the track. The championship picture has gotten pretty fuzzy following Martinsville and I’d expect more weirdness next week in the Lone Star State.
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