Monday, October 29, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Emotional win at Martinsville

Jimmie Johnson celebrates after winning the Tums Fast Relief 500 at
Martinsville Speedway. Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

As the Chase winds down, the 2012 Sprint Cup Champion is getting close to being revealed but with three races left anything can happen. 
John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

Kasey Kahne, No.5

Kasey Kahne’s day at Martinsville was uneventful, but he still managed to stay alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
By the first caution on Lap 46, Kahne went from 15th to the top ten. The No. 5 spent the day inside the top ten; as the race progressed he marched to the top.

Leading 12 laps beginning with Lap 366, as the race neared its end he couldn't hold off Johnson and Kyle Busch, going on to finish third. Kahne sits fourth in the point standings.

"Felt good to have a good run at Martinsville. It's a tough track for me. Has been since I came into the Sprint Cup Series.  Definitely felt good to run pretty well today," Kahne said.

"I was thinking after the race, we were making adjustments. Kenny Francis, we make a small adjustment this way, I'm too tight, make it this way, I'm too loose. The windows are so small that I
have at this track."  

Kahne continued, "You look at the 48, you watch how Jimmie drives this place, Jeff Gordon, their window is so much bigger. It's trying to figure out how to get where they're at with your feet, the braking, the throttle, things like that. We'll keep working on that. Two of the best guys to learn from and hopefully we can keep getting better at this track."  
A memorial sticker on the side of Jeff Gordon's No. 24 car -
remembering the Hendrick plane crash eight years ago.
Credit: Katy Lindamood/Skirts and Scuffs 
Jeff Gordon, No. 24
Jeff Gordon has won seven times at Martinsville. Starting 11th would only showcase why Gordon has won here so often.

As the race started Gordon quickly jumped to second by Lap 35. Gordon’s pit stops were also a key factor in his day, having great stops and being out fast helped to maintain his position in the top five. Battling with teammate Jimmie Johnson for most of the race, Gordon was determined to get the top spot.

On Lap 67 he finally did steal it from Johnson and lead a total of 92 laps, but in the end, Gordon couldn't pass the front-runners and so wouldn't get his eighth win. He finished his day in seventh and is sixth in the point standings.  

Jimmie Johnson, No.48

For Jimmie Johnson, going to Martinsville is always emotional, remembering everyone who died in the Hendrick plane crash. For Johnson, winning at Martinsville is for their memory. 

He won the pole Friday, and with points leader Brad Keselwoski starting 32nd, the points standings were looking good for Johnson as the race started.

When the green flag dropped Sunday, the No. 48 quickly drove away from the field. Johnson’s day seemed easy, leading and not often being caught. He was plagued by radio issues which caused him to not be able to hear his spotter Earl. Despite those issues, Johnson was unfazed, he led a total of 193 laps on the way to taking the checkered flag. Earning his seventh victory at the Paper Clip, Johnson snagged the points lead from Keselowski. Maybe "Mr. Five-Time" is on his way to a Six-pack.

“We just had a great race car,” explained Johnson.” And I think we've also learned our lesson here in the past in not pitting late and that certainly came into play and we made the right decision there. I’m so torn with emotion right now with winning here; and I’m so happy to be in the point lead," Johnson said.

Remembering his fallen friends, Johnson stated, "But I can’t help but think of all the people in 501RH a few years back. Also, you can see on my car, Rick (Hendrick) wrote here in here Todd Rose passed away recently and I certainly want to mention him as well.

"I’m ecstatic about the win today and ecstatic about the point lead, but this is no cake-walk. These guys are bringing their best each and every week and we've got to keep working hard to keep this Lowe’s Chevy up front; and we’re in good shape."

The No.88 on pit road before the start of the race.
Credit: Katy Lindamood/Skirts and Scuffs
Dale Earnhardt Jr. No.88

After taking two weeks off from racing due to multiple concussions, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came to Martinsville hungry and missing racing.

The day seemed to be great for Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team, battling inside the top ten all day and even getting as high as third. On the final caution, however,  Steve Letarte elected to stay out and not pit. This hurt the No.88 as fresh tires were faster than old. Earnhardt looked to be coming back when an accident caused him to spin out. Earnhardt Jr. was none too pleased with the No. 99 of Carl Edwards, but Sam Hornish Jr. had gotten into Edwards which caused him to spin Earnhardt Jr. out. 

What appeared to be a solid top-ten finish didn't end so well for Earnhardt Jr., finishing 21st after his crash and being 12th in the point standings.

"It felt pretty good,” Earnhardt Jr. said on returning to action.  "I was just really pissed off about how we finished that race.  That was really ridiculous.  I mean you've got to use a little common sense. That was not a good move."

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