The Sprint Cup series made its second stop of the season at Martinsville Speedway this past weekend. The half-mile track is known for its close-quarter racing and the flaring tempers among the drivers. The Tums Fast Relief 500 marked the 6th race in the Chase. The race had no shortage of great racing and exciting battles for position. With all eyes on Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, every fan watched to see if Johnson’s lead over Hamlin in the standings would increase or diminish. Just as he said he would, Virginia native Hamlin took home the win on Sunday.
The Roush Fenway Racing drivers came to Martinsville hoping to run the race as successfully if not better than they had run at Charlotte the week before when all four of the Roush Fenway drivers finished inside the top twelve. On Sunday, three of the Roush Fenway drivers finished inside the top 20, while one was left with a disappointing finish toward the back after he had to go to the garage for repairs during the race.
Greg Biffle – Start: 3rd. Finish: 33rd.
On Friday, Greg Biffle qualified 3rd, which was his best qualifying effort at Martinsville. Then final practice saw the No. 16 3M Ford atop the board. It looked as though Biffle was going to have his best run at the half-mile speedway. However, two pit road penalties and a trip to the garage for repairs, sidelined all chances Biffle had of getting a good finish.
Taking the green flag from the 3rd position on Sunday, Biffle ran as high as second in the early laps and held onto a top-5 position until the first caution of the day came out on lap 48. The 3M Ford was tight in the center of the turns, so Biffle’s pit crew made air pressure and wedge adjustments during the pit stop. Biffle restarted 5th, but the handling of the car didn’t improve. He began to drop back and was running 11th when the caution came out again on lap 110.
Biffle pitted for four tires, fuel, air pressure and wedge adjustments. The 3M Pit Bulls were flawless during the stop, helping Biffle gain 6 positions on pit road. Once the green flag waved again, Biffle soon realized that the changes had made the car too loose. He once again found himself drifting back through the field. A caution on lap 172 gave Biffle the opportunity to pit for a track bar adjustment. However, crew chief Greg Erwin had to call Biffle back down pit road due to loose lug nuts on one of the tires. The penalty had Biffle restating 32nd. He fought his way back through the field only to have another penalty under a pit stop on lap 211. His crew had gone over the wall too soon. Biffle found himself having to fight back toward the front again.
Just as he was beginning to crack the top 20, a cut tire on the No. 16 Ford brought the caution out. A sway bar arm broke as the tire went down, forcing Biffle to make the hard left to the garage. The 3M crew refused to let it keep Biffle from finishing the race. On lap 419, Biffle returned to the track in the 36th position. He was 67 laps down, but did all he could to gain any positions he could. In the end, he was able to pick up three positions to finish 33rd. Biffle dropped to 11th in the standings, 316 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
David Ragan – Start: 10th. Finish: 17th.
After running top 10 times in practice, David Ragan was able to qualify 10th on Friday. The No. 6 UPS Ford looked fast, and Ragan was looking forward to racing on Sunday. After running inside the top 10 for much of the opening laps, Ragan pitted under the caution on lap 48, but was told by officials he had been speeding while exiting pit road. The penalty sent Ragan to the back of the pack for the restart. From then on, Ragan fought an ill-handling to car cross the line in the 17th position.
Once the green flag waved, it didn’t take Ragan long to report that his car was tight through the center of the turns and up off the corners. He was still able to maintain his position until the first caution came out on lap 48. Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment. However, Ragan was informed he had been speeding on pit road. The penalty was that Ragan had to go to the rear of the field. He dropped from 10th to 34th for the restart.
The changes made during the pit stop helped the handling, but still left Ragan asking for more grip as he slowly worked his way through the field. He was 29th when the caution came out on lap 110, giving him the chance to pit for four tires, fuel, and another track bar adjustment. The handling did improve, but Ragan still needed more if he was to gain any more positions. The middle of the race was full of cautions, giving Ragan plenty of opportunities to pit for adjustments. A pit stop on lap 290 under caution had crew chief Drew Blickensderfer telling the for the track bar to be raised as high as it would go. Ragan restarted 15th, but the No. 6 Ford still didn’t handle the way Ragan needed it to. In the closing laps, Ragan lost a couple positions and eventually did go a lap down to the leader to finish 17th.
Matt Kenseth - Start: 32nd. Finish 15th.
Earlier this year, Matt Kenseth was battling for the lead at Martinsville Speedway in the closing laps when contact from Jeff Gordon knocked him out of contention for the win, and he fnished 18th. This past weekend, Kenseth returned to Martinsville looking to better those results. However, a pit road speeding penalty cost the team the good finish they might have been able to get.
After qualifying in the 32nd position on Friday, Kenseth knew it was going to take a lot of work to make his way through the field at the half-mile speedway on Sunday. When the first caution of the day came out on lap 48, Kenseth told crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford was loose off the turns and that the front tires were sliding in the turns. Kenseth pitted for four tires, fuel, and air pressure and track bar adjustments. He restarted 27th, and soon worked his way to 23rd. However, the front tires were still sliding in the center of the turns. Under the cautions in the first stretch of the 500-lap race, Kenseth’s crew continued to make adjustments to the No. 17 Ford. Around lap 200, the caution came out again. Kenseth and Fennig discussed what else they could do to correct the car’s handling issues. Fennig called for air pressure adjustments as well as adjustments to the rubbers. Kenseth restarted 25 and soon found himself running in the 19th position. When the caution came out on lap 226, Fennig told Kenseth to stay out to gain track position.
The pit strategy had Kenseth sitting 7th for the restart. Over the next run, Kenseth remained inside the top 10, until the caution came out on lap 384. Kenseth pitted under that caution for tires, fuel, and air pressure adjustments, but he was told by NASCAR that he had been speeding while exiting pit road. The penalty left Kenseth restarting 20th, instead of 7th where he would have been. Despite his best efforts to get back inside the top 10, Kenseth was only able to pick up five more positions to finish 15th when the checkered flag waved. The finish, and the fact Kenseth’s teammate Greg Biffle had issues during the race, has bumped Kenseth to 10th in the standings, 283 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Carl Edwards – Start: 7th. Finish: 8th.
Carl Edwards qualified in the seventh position on Friday. In the early laps on Sunday, Edwards dropped back due to the loose-handling conditions of the No. 99 Aflac Ford. However, he knew that patience would be the key to getting a good finish. Edwards kept his cool, and due to pit strategy, was able to finish 8th.
Edwards began to lose positions when the race started. The No. 99 Ford was loose off the corners. In the first 100 laps, Edwards fought to stay inside the top 10. A caution on lap 110 found Edwards running in the 13th position. He pitted for adjustments, and as the race progressed, the car became tight in the center of the turns and loose off. A caution around lap 227 had some of the drivers heading for pit road since they had not stopped under the caution that had come out about 15 laps before. Crew chief Bob Osborne decided Edwards should stay out to gain track position. Edwards was 5th for the restart, but the car had now become loose off the turns again. Eventually, Edwards settled in around the 9th position. A caution on lap 290 had Edwards pitting for four tires and fuel as well as air pressure, track bar, and wedge adjustments.
While fellow Chase drivers had altercations on the track, Edwards knew that driving aggressively could be disaster for him. Edwards was able to avoid trouble, and after a pit stop under caution on lap 386 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment, he was in the 8th position. Edwards lost one position with about 60 laps remaining. He was able to pass Jeff Burton on the last lap to finish 8th.
Edwards moved up to 6th in the standings, 213 points behind Johnson.
Race winner: Denny Hamlin
Coming into the weekend, Denny Hamlin said he was going to win the race on Sunday. Some fans may have thought he was being cocky, but Hamlin definitely knows his way around Martinsville and was able to back it up. He took the checkered flag and is now just 6 points behind leader Johnson. Congratulations to Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team on their victory!
With four races remaining, can Denny Hamlin knock Jimmie Johnson off the top spot? Has the Chase really come down to just a two-man battle between Hamlin and Johnson? Just how will the inevitable ‘Big One’ at Talladega this coming weekend shake up things in the Chase? There’s four races left…Who will be the Sprint Cup champion?
The Chase continues….
Next up: Amp Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, October 31, 2010.