Harvick in lead halfway at Martinsville, Earnhardt and Elliott struggle, Larson misses race

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UPDATE: After repairs were made to his car, including a new radiator, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has returned to the race on Lap 276, in 39th place and 47 laps off the lead lap.

Original story:

Lots of beating and banging and Freaky Fast roars once again.

That pretty much describes where we’re at halfway into Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Kevin Harvick, going for his ninth consecutive top-2 finish, leads the field at the midpoint mark (250 of 500 laps).

Brad Keselowski is second, followed by Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray.

Sixth through 10th are Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and eight-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon.

Defending race winner Kurt Busch is running 11th.

As is typical at Martinsville, there’s been lots of action on-track. Here’s some of the highlights for the first 250 laps:

* There have been 10 caution periods already – and we’re still only halfway home. The track single-race record is 21 cautions.

* On Lap 228, a multi-car wreck involved a number of drivers, including Paul Menard, David Ragan, Justin Allgaier, Casey Mears and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who suffered heavy front end damage after running into the rear of Menards’ car. Drivers were slowing down to try and avoid the initial contact between Ragan and Mears, but were unable to do so and an accordion-like wreck followed. “Somebody got checked up there, we didn’t see it and knocked out the radiator,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports 1.

* That wreck was the latest of Earnhardt’s problems in the race. He reportedly twice broke his gear shifter in the first 200 laps, requiring him to pit several times for repairs or shifter swaps. “The shifter kept breaking,” Earnhardt said. “It was vibrating like a tuning fork.”

* Pole-sitter Joey Logano had a strong day going, leading 108 laps, until he made contact with Michael Annett on Lap 219 and spun out, dropping Logano back to 24th on the grid.

* Roush Fenway Racing continues to struggle. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out the caution by himself three separate times in the first 220 laps before taking his car to the garage for damage repair. In addition, Trevor Bayne spun early in the race and Greg Biffle has been unable to get much higher than 15th.

* Regan Smith replaced Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Larson was undergoing additional tests at a Charlotte hospital Sunday after fainting at a fan autograph session Saturday at the track.

* Chase Elliott’s Sprint Cup debut has been rough. Between laps 65 and 73, he was involved in wrecks with Brett Moffitt and Cole Whitt, the latter forcing Elliott’s Chevrolet to the garage for repairs. He eventually returned to the track 69 laps off the lead, ranked last in the 43-car field.

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