Short track racing!!
When NASCAR rolls into the oldest track on the tour, I always do a little happy dance. Even in the years when the rules package means the racing isn’t top notch everywhere else, Martinsville always puts on a show. Because aero doesn’t mean a damn thing on the paperclip.
NASCAR needs more short tracks. Anyone who watched today’s race would agree to that.
The race this week was way more exciting than the box score would have you think. Kyle Busch finished the weekend sweep, leading over 350 of the 500 laps. That lap stat there makes it seem like he ran away from the field, but there’s the beauty of short track racing, the leader is bumping and banging around on track just as much as everyone else. There were only eight cautions, which big chunks of green flag racing in between. The cool temps at the track meant that the concrete surface never really got any grip, so there was huge tire fall off during a run. I’m more than ok with this. It’s one of those things that makes for great racing.
I feel like I’ve been talking about tire fall off and tire issues almost every week. That’s typical of a place like this or at Atlanta, but the rubber was a big deal at Fontana too. Byproduct of the low aero. (Or the Martinsville no-aero). I really think that NASCAR fans are being seriously spoiled this year in terms of excellent races. Haven’t had a snoozer yet this year really. That’s why when I saw there were empty seats at Martinsville, I thought it was a damn shame. If it wasn’t seven states away, I’d go myself. It’s on my bucket list. There are few guarantees in NASCAR, but a good race at Martinsville is one of them.
This race was full of standout performances that will tell the real story of the race, so before we start calling out those stellar runs, how’d my predictions from last week do?
Pretty much wish I had gone to Vegas with those. Last week, I called early advantage to Kyle Busch. Which was a big duh. I actually didn’t realize though that prior to this weekend sweep, he had never won a trophy at Martinsville. Seems like such a natural fit for him. After checking off this track, Kyle Busch is down to just three on the circuit that he has left on his list, Charlotte, Pocono, and Kansas.
I also hit a home run with calling on Allmendinger to carry the momentum the #47 had been building through the start of the season. Top ten car all day and stormed to the front on the last restart to finish second. The JTG Daughtry team is seriously gelling right now. Yeah, early season gains don’t always last for the whole year, but I find their gains impressive because NASCAR opens the year on a wide variety of tracks. Good finishes at Fontana and Martinsville are two very different things but this little team did both. If they can make similar gains at the cookie cutter mile-and-a-half tracks, this team can be in the mix at the end of the year.
Eh, there weren’t much. That was really the one prediction that was a swing and a miss from the last round up post. The only real drama was Austin Dillon getting fired up on the radio. But that’s starting to be a regular thing as is crew chief Slugger Labbe telling him to breathe and get back to racing.
Menard gave Dillon a shove at one point, maybe 2/3 through the race. They were both right around 10th. Lapped traffic. Menard had a run. Just one of those deals at a short track. But with no rubber sticking to the surface of the track, people were getting freight trained on the outside lane and Dillon lost some spots. They were beating and banging on each other for a while but they left it on the track as they should and were cool after the race.
The Worst Caution Ever
I can’t find video of this floating around anywhere yet, it might be too early (since I’m writing this on Sunday night instead of the usual Monday evening), but the worst caution ever came out at Martinsville today.
Sweet Lady Debris shows up from time to time in NASCAR, but maybe the TV cameras just can’t find it. The broadcasters have more important things to cover than scanning the track to maybe find a piece of something on the track. And the cynical among us decry the phantom cautions, but at least NASCAR has plausible deniability. “Just cause *you* didn’t see the debris, doesn’t mean anything.” It’s a good line. Easy to defend.
Josh Wise in the #30, one of those guys I really would love to see in top notch equipment someday, was running a few laps off the pace near Truex in the Furniture Row car. After almost a hundred laps on the tires, things were getting squirrely. Truex went underneath Wise but came up into him. The doorslam put Wise up into the marbles and the caution flew.
Except Wise didn’t hit anything. Or spin. Or even slide. He just went out of the racing groove.
After taking flak for not throwing a caution at the end of the Fontana Xfinity race before the break, someone jumped the gun way too fast here.
I said above that the story of the race is really some of the individual highlights. Let’s look at our finishing order. Edwards had 6th. Newman 10th. Logano 11th. Earnhardt 14th. Good to meh finishes for these drivers. Normally not anything to write home about.
But all four of them spent significant time a lap down.
Edwards started deep in the field and didn’t even crack the top twenty until almost midway. Earnhardt spun for the first caution on lap six and didn’t get it back until 313 for the Wise “caution.” (I’ll be the Tin Foil Hat Crowd loves that) Logano had the pole to start, but dropped like a rock after he chewed up his tires early in a run and had to claw his way back just for 11th. Newman also started and held on longer than Logano, but lost a lap and only got it back at the end.
All of these drivers put in a hell of a lot more effort than their finish would make you think. They showed their stuff out on the track. A rally from deep in the field is always more impressive at a short track. Yeah, there are more opportunities to get your lap back, but you can lose laps even quicker. All part of why short tracks put on the best show.
AJ Allmendinger! Yeah, I talked about him above, but how can I not talk about him again? This is a seriously impressive run for him in that car. Martinsville and the short tracks are good to the road racers. The extreme style of braking carries over for both types of racing. The Dinger is always one of the best when NASCAR turns left and right and with his team stepping up their game across the board, he got a chance to show off those braking skills today. He talked about how the little teams need to pounce on good days like this and he certainly did for his #47 crew.
The next shout out goes to a guy who isn’t even going to race next week at Texas. Brian Vickers had another week as the fill in for Tony Stewart, but the races with Bass Pro Shops on the hood go to Ty Dillon. He has no clue what any of his racing plans are, although there is talk he may run Indy this year. Vickers started third and ran in the top 15 all day pulling off a seventh place finish for Stewart-Haas. Even going back to his Red Bull Racing days, I’ve always felt his medical issues gave him a raw deal. You can’t blame a team for needing to bank on consistent availability, but I’ve always liked seeing him out perform these part time expectations he’s been forced into.
All of Richard Childress Racing gets a shout out today. Yeah, the Neon Beard and Dillon got into it on the track, but all three cars finished in the top ten. RCR doesn’t have Rousch problems, but it’s been quite a long time for that team to pull that off. That team is going to break the winless drought, likely sooner rather than later, and there are days when it looks like it could be any of the three. Menard in particular needed a good run. He got out front and led laps. Stats guy on twitter said in over eight thousand laps run at the paperclip, it was the first time he ran any of them out front. First laps lead on the year for Menard. The #27 had some bad hands dealt already this season, the ten point penalty for the fender whatevers, the blown tire for the 38th place finish a couple weeks ago, and for a driver who pointed into the Chase, it’s hard to soak up too many bad days like that.
Pit Stall 13 Update
The Pit Stall 13 Update doubles as a shout out this week! Kyle Larson had the magic pit stall this week and as a dirt racer, you’d think short tracks would be his bag, but none of his other four starts at Martinsville resulted in a finish worth calling home about. Larson’s Target car that my kid loves so much had a middling place on the starting grid. He broke into the top ten before a hundred laps were up and never left it.
Larson came home in third place and is leading the Pit Stall 13 standings now.
He’s on the upswing all together this season. I don’t like the term “sophomore slump” at all really, and I think Larson was victim of last year’s crap aero package more than most drivers. He’s improving now in year three though and I think he’ll get his breakout win soon.
- 19th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The rookie ran midpack all day, stayed out of trouble, and finished on the lead lap. A+ day for a rookie at this track
- 30th – #98 Cole Whitt – Finished, but a number of laps off the pace. With the attrition rate lower than usual for short track racing, this was all that just surviving could get
- 37th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Huh? That’s right, we actually had a full field now that we’re back on the East Coast. It was an extra car for Premium and I had to look that up to even figure out who had that number now.
- 38th – #30 Josh Wise – Already talked about the Worst Caution Ever, but the car’s engine conked out later on in the race.
Texas Up Next
Big fast track coming up on the schedule next before more short tracking. Expect a lot of references to that giant ass TV screen they have at Texas Motor Speedway cause the culture of that state obsesses with largeness.
Now that we’re settling into the season, expect to see the usual faces up front. Specifically, I think the guys who ran well at Fontana will run well at Texas. RCR historically did well at high horsepower tracks, so I’d like to see them carry the momentum from today, even if the tracks couldn’t be any more different.