|M&Ms Toyota heads to the Martinsville garage|
Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
But time was not on Busch’s side at the beginning of the race. As the first green flag run ticked on too long without a chance to pit, he fell victim to a loose racecar and hit the outside wall. Crew chief Dave Rogers said they went with a freer setup, since the car has been tight at the end of this race in the past. “We got a little behind because the car was just too loose. Kyle was doing a great job at hanging onto it and it wheel-hopped a little bit and we got in the fence,” Rogers said.
After a half hour in the garage to change the rear end housing, the M&Ms Toyota headed back to the track 80 laps down in 38th position. Busch gained two spots after the repairs and finished 36th.
Martinsville Speedway is one of Denny Hamlin’s best tracks. In 13 previous Sprint Cup starts, the Virginia native has hauled home the prized grandfather clock four times. True to form, Hamlin ran in the top-five for much of the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, leading twice for a total of 31 laps.
When asked about his sixth place finish, Hamlin said, “It’s not bad, but it’s not where we’re accustomed to. We’re accustomed to leading laps and being in a fight with those guys - those Hendrick cars at the front of the field.”
Interestingly, the FedEx Toyota did run up front, battling for position with the HMS cars for most of the race. When Hamlin was leading with about 107 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon passed him. Hamlin maintained a top-10 spot for the remainder of the race, and of all the Hendrick teammates, only Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ahead of him.
Like the No. 18 team, the No. 11 guys tried a new setup for this race and were not thrilled with the results. Hamlin tweeted after the race: “Not a stellar day for our FedEx team. Tried a new setup and just never got it to work. Glad to have a week to regroup.”
Despite his disappointment, Hamlin had the best showing for the JGR drivers, bringing his stats up to an impressive 12 top-10s in his 14 NSCS starts at Martinsville.
Joey Logano arrived in Virginia, hoping to “turn things around” and regain the "oomph" he had at Daytona and Phoenix. He rolled off the grid in 10th position, his fifth straight top-10 qualifying effort this season. Logano raced in the front for the first 40 laps, then dropped back, fighting his tight-off-center racecar. After getting back into the top 10 briefly after the first pit stop, the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota slipped to mid-pack for the rest of the race. He finished in the 23rd position and held steady in the championship points standings.
“The car was super tight all afternoon and everything we tried with it just never made it any better,” Logano said. “While I’m not happy with our finish, I’m glad to come out of there still 13th in the point standings. We need to keep ourselves in contention and use this break to our advantage. We are going to be testing at Nashville this coming week...”
The points standings for the JGR drivers after Martinsville:
Denny Hamlin – 7th
Joey Logano – 13th
Kyle Busch – 16th
Beth Bence Reinke writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her Skirts and Scuffs column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow Beth on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com