Martinsville

Ryan: The many reasons why Clint Bowyer’s ninth win felt like the first

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Monday’s command performance at Martinsville Speedway was Clint Bowyer’s ninth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series. The postrace scene made it seem as if it were the first.

The parade of drivers to victory lane to offer hearty congratulations (not just teammates Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola but also Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski).

The exuberant rookie mistake of standing on the roof in exultation (sorry about those R&D Center tape measures, NASCAR!).

The excitable answers that spilled from Bowyer’s mouth in complete paragraphs instead of full sentences.

The setting on the Martinsville frontstretch as dusk approached was normally what is seen with an inaugural winner, never mind a 13-year veteran whose first victory came in the 2007 playoffs opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

This doesn’t discount the emotional significance of Bowyer’s victory. This is the best feel-good story since the Daytona 500.

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The poignant images of his dash to scoop up 3-year-old Cash and share the joy of his first victory in more than five years will be what lingers and resonates from the sixth race of a season that could use more such special moments.

But the collective merriment felt as much about relief as celebration (though undoubtedly there were those who offered congratulations contingent on the hopes of securing an invite to Bowyer’s all-night rager).

Bowyer said as much in admitting he spent some time worrying while leading 215 of the final 216 laps on the 0.526-mile oval.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Bowyer said when asked about averting a pit stop under green that could have left him at a disadvantage because of fuel mileage. “I was wondering how we was going to lose this race, and that’s going to be how we’re going to lose it.

“But man, I don’t know why it just felt right. Today was going to be our day.”

This officially is Year 2 of the Clint Bowyer Reclamation Project, but it feels much longer than that because rarely have things gone swimmingly since the infamous night in Richmond when a curious flick of the steering wheel sent NASCAR into a scandal-tinged tailspin that seemed to ensnare Bowyer, too.

His last two seasons at Michael Waltrip Racing were mostly miserable as the team sank slowly into oblivion.

There was a rescue line tossed by Stewart-Haas Racing late in 2015, but it meant 2016 was a bridge year spent in 25th-place obscurity of a backmarker team that since has folded.

And when he finally arrived in the No. 14 Ford last year, it didn’t immediately mesh while attempting to fill the enormous void left by three-time champion and car owner Tony Stewart.

Bowyer admitted that he and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz “fought a lot” in their first season together (there was the notable video of the driver stomping away after arguing with Bugarewicz at Talladega last October).

“All you guys was hard on us last year,” Bowyer said to the postrace news media. “We learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself.”

So much that the guy who never lost a party went so far as to embrace the power of positive thinking, hanging victory lane photos and championship plaques from days gone by on the wall of his office.

Whatever it took to spark the turnaround.

Bowyer, 38, might be in a good place, but the Cup Series hasn’t taken kindly lately to middle-aged veterans on 190-race breaks between wins. Even those who still win regularly (hello, Matt Kenseth) are getting squeezed out by a numbers game that favors the cheaper and less experienced option.

It’s fair to wonder how much longer the leash would be for Bowyer if he hadn’t won Monday, particularly if the team stumbled and gave away another win.

Now all that weight has vanished and been replaced by the security of being locked into the playoffs six months early.

Nearly two hours after the race, the festivities were just getting started.

“Hell no,” he cracked when asked if he had gotten the carousing out of his system. “It ain’t even dark yet.

Seems fairly bright, actually. Like the dawn of a new beginning.


The luxury of showcasing Bowyer’s effervescent personality was the saving grace of a 500-lap race that simply was uneventful for Martinsville. History shows that, but so did the Camping World Truck Series race that immediately preceded the main event. It wasn’t as if the track was less than primed for being conducive to action.

There were many theories supplied – tire combinations, data sharing, reduced aggression – about why the beating and banging of fenders were largely absent.

With far more at stake when the Cup Series returns Oct. 28 in the thick of the playoffs, let’s hope that Martinsville’s magic does, too.


Brad Keselowski caught grief last year when he chose the outside lane for a restart on which he lost the lead and the shot at a 2017 sweep of Martinsville.

But the cerebral Team Penske driver seems to have been ahead of the curve on a growing trend that would have seemed unthinkable prior to the advent of double-file restarts: The outside seems to be the preferred lane at Martinsville.

Aside from the start (when pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. held first from the inside) and Lap 143 (when Ryan Blaney started on the inside and lost the lead to Denny Hamlin), the leader took the outside and retained first on every restart Monday.

As noted by Motorsports Analytics founder David Smith, the outside line has become the place to be at Martinsville since 2014 by roughly a 20 percent advantage.


The decision to postpone Sunday’s race at 7 a.m. wasn’t received well – understandable because it meant thousands of fans likely wouldn’t be able to return Monday (and also wouldn’t be getting ticket refunds from the track). The reasoning for the postponement – that the conditions around track property precluded a safe ingress and egress – also was sound.

The head-scratching part of the virtual no-win decision was found on social media.

As the snow began to lighten late Saturday night, NASCAR Twitter lit up with images of the track being cleared and some upbeat photos and video by NASCAR officials and drivers that fed optimism (without qualification) of a Sunday race.

When the race was delayed the next morning, it came so out of the blue that some drivers were about to begin the drive north minutes before the news broke.

If you were a fan deciding on travel to the track and gauging off Saturday late night’s dispatches, there wasn’t much evidence to the contrary that it seemed right to leave early Sunday morning.

Seeing Martinsville blanketed in snow was delightfully fun to witness. But the next time there’s such a threat of inclement weather, it might be wise to temper that enthusiasm with at least some warning the green flag might be in doubt (instead of inadvertently suggesting the opposite).


The only flicker of a potential feud was snuffed quickly when Denny Hamlin quickly put the ruination of his winning bid behind him.

Scuffles have been ignited by far less than the game of brake-check chicken that Hamlin and Kevin Harvick played, resulting in major damage to the No. 11 Toyota that led 111 laps.

There probably was a point during the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s career when there might have been a reprise of his September 2010 showdown at Dover International Speedway with Harvick, who was a willing instigator in both instances.

But that time has passed, and Hamlin’s level-headed reaction, coupled with a longtime friendship with Harvick, decreases the likelihood of any lasting effects from the dustup Monday.

Kevin Harvick unhappy after ‘cheap shots’ from Ryan Blaney at Martinsville

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Most eyes at Martinsville Speedway last night were on Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin as they took part in a heated exchange on the backstretch after the checkered flag flew on a chaotic finish under the lights.

They weren’t the only drivers who had a post-race discussion.

On pit road, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney met up not far from their battered Fords, which finished fifth and eighth respectively, with Blaney’s car the most damaged.

Both were involved in the massive crash that broke out as the field took the checkered flag for the First Data 500.

But not all the damage inflicted upon Blaney’s No. 21 and Harvick’s No. 4 came from the pileup. The damaged sheet metal also was the result of contact between the two drivers from extended battles that began in Stage 2 and stretched into the final segment.

One bit of battle saw Harvick on Blaney’s inside as they exited Turn 4. Blaney ran out of room and glanced off the outside wall and came down into Harvick.

The drivers, both among the eight remaining in the playoffs, hounded each other until the closing laps, when multiple restarts created “pandemonium” according to Blaney.

“It was pretty ridiculous with everyone wrecking each other and running into each other,” Blaney said. “I thought we were gonna make it through the last one, but we just kind of got caught up off of (Turn) 4 in all that stuff.  At least we salvaged a decent day. Honestly, a lot of cars got torn up.”

As the dust began to settle, Harvick parked his car behind Blaney’s on pit road.

“I just told him … ‘Look, if you’re gonna park it at Martinsville, you’re gonna get hit,'” Harvick said. “He didn’t like getting hit, and I didn’t like the cheap shots, the brake checks and the hitting down the straightaway. It’s like I told him, I said, ‘If you want to race hard and you want to run into me after I pass you, that’s fine, but slamming me down the straightaway and brake-checking me is another thing.’  That’s the easy way to race.”

When their conversation was over, Harvick parted with a shot to Blaney’s ribs. Blaney’s response was a little harder.

Even with some bad feelings, Harvick found some enjoyment in the late-race mayhem and post-race arguments.

“It’s just Martinsville,” Harvick said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s championship time.  It’s time to get physical. … Bent fenders, hurt feelings. I love it.”

Matt Kenseth explains move at Martinsville that made some think he was ‘crazy’

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It was a curious decision when leader Matt Kenseth lined up on the outside lane for a restart with 61 laps to go in Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Even winner Denny Hamlin asked on his team radio what his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate was doing because the inside lane is preferred at Martinsville.

Kenseth’s decision put Jeff Gordon on the inside after the four-time champion asked Kenseth for the favor.

“I was just pulling at straws,’’ Gordon said after the race. “I really wanted the inside and said, ‘Hey, ask Kenseth if he’ll let me (on the inside) … this is the least he can do for body-slamming me (earlier). Somehow the message got across. So that was way cool, and it worked out pretty good for us.”

Kenseth led the first two laps after the restart before Gordon moved into first. Kenseth explained his side Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin Paint’’ show.

“Earlier in the race I ran over Jeff really bad by accident,’’ Kenseth said on the show. “He asked, and I trusted him to give (the bottom) to me when we got to Turn 1. Honestly, the launch off the top I thought was better than the bottom. When you get down to the corner, you wanted to be on the bottom.

“I just thought it would make that bottom line a little bit longer and give me a shot to get away a little bit. Those are decisions that happen pretty fast. I’m sure most people thought I was crazy.

“I knew Kevin (Harvick) was really fast on a short run and felt like with him starting (third) he was probably going to get underneath me in the first corner or two, and I was going to have a better shot of getting freight trained doing that than if I started on top and tried to get to the bottom and get some momentum and get away.’’

Kenseth, who finished fourth at Martinsville, was asked by co-host Jim Noble if he was surprised at Gordon’s request and if he would have said no to other drivers.

“If I thought it was going to hurt my effort, I would have said no, no matter who it was, whether it was a teammate, best friend or whoever it was,’’ Kenseth said. “I honestly thought at the time it wasn’t going to hurt my effort, it was probably going to help it by slowing down that inside lane a little bit and, hopefully, getting away and getting a little bit of breathing room because I knew I was bad on a short run.’’

Harvick’s top-2 streak ends, but Keselowski starts his own at Martinsville

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One top-2 streak ended and another began in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Kevin Harvick saw his string of eight consecutive top-2 finishes – four wins and four runner-up showings – come to an end with an eighth-place finish.

“We just lost track position at the wrong time,” Harvick said.

But not Brad Keselowski. For the second week in a row, he found grip at the right time and, finishing second to winner Denny Hamlin a week after winning at Auto Club Speedway.

“It was a good run,” Keselowski said. “(It was an) up-and-down day for us and we finished on a strong note, just not quite as strong as we wanted to.

“That’s the best we’ve ever been here at Martinsville, so I’m pumped about that, but a little disappointed I’m not taking home a (grandfather clock for the winner). That’s how it goes sometimes, but, all in all, a really solid day, a fun day and just one spot short.”

Keselowski raced Hamlin hard, and for the most part, clean. He gave Hamlin a hard shot coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap, but Keselowski’s actions could have been worse.

“I did everything I could other than wreck him,” Keselowski said. “I hit him pretty good a couple of times. I just had fun and I really don’t know what more I could have done other than just drove through him, but I felt pretty good about what I did do.

“I raced him the way I wanted to be raced and I guess that is what it is,” Keselowski said.

Hamlin appreciated it.

“Glad he chose the latter decision on that last corner, but that’s something that you build up, the respect from your competitors, and he’ll get that paid back to him,” Hamlin said, noting he’ll return the kindness later.

 

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Facts and Figures: Sprint Cup at Martinsville Speedway

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You want facts about this Sunday’s NASCAR STP 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway?

We’ve got all the facts you need right here, including overall event information, pole history and track history:

STP 500
Location: Martinsville Speedway
Date: Sunday, March 29, 2015
Starting time: 1 pm ET
TV: Fox Sports 1 12:30 pm ET
Radio: Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90
Distance: 500 laps, 263 miles

Martinsville Speedway Notes & Facts – track/event/drivers:

* 602 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville; 380 in more than one.
* NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty has the all-time most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville with 67; Jeff Gordon has the most starts among active drivers with 44.
* NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes at Martinsville Speedway with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson with four.
* Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 30; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 28, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 18.
* Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 37; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 35, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 22.
* Jeff Gordon leads active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Martinsville Speedway with a 7.318. Denny Hamlin (9.500) and Ryan Newman (9.654) are the only other active drivers with an average starting position at Martinsville inside the top 10.
* Three active drivers have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series average finish in the top 10 at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (6.231), Jeff Gordon (6.841) and Denny Hamlin (8.722).
* Jeff Gordon has participated in the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway without a DNF (44).
* Mike Bliss (09/27/1998), Travis Kvapil (10/24/2004) and Michael McDowell (3/30/2008) are active drivers that made their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career starts at Martinsville Speedway.
* 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted consecutive wins at Martinsville Speedway. Fred Lorenzen won four NSCS races straight (the most) from the fall of 1963 through the spring of 1965. Jimmie Johnson is the most recent driver to win consecutive races (Fall of 2012 / Spring of 2013) at Martinsville.
* All eight active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have won at Martinsville Speedway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Tony Stewart won at Martinsville (2000) with the fewest previous appearances (three).
* Ryan Newman competed at Martinsville Speedway 20 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the eight active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
* Two active drivers have made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Martinsville Speedway: Kevin Harvick (19) and Ryan Newman (20).
* Danica Patrick is the only female driver to compete at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Below are Patrick’s stats at Martinsville.

Martinsville Speedway Notes & Facts – poles:

* Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Martinsville Speedway in 1949.
* 58 drivers have Coors Light poles at Martinsville, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip with eight; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven.
* 12 drivers have won two or more consecutive Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway. Four of the 12 have won three consecutive poles at Martinsville: Glen Wood (Fall of 1959 and 1960 sweep); Darrell Waltrip (1979 sweep and spring 1980); Mark Martin (fall of 1990 and 1991 sweep); Jeff Gordon (2003 sweep and spring 2004).
* 21 of 132 races (15.9 percent) at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the Coors Light pole; seven of those 21 wins came from active drivers: Tony Stewart (2000), Jeff Gordon (2003 twice), Jimmie Johnson (2008, 2012, spring 2013) and Denny Hamlin (2010).
* Tony Stewart (4/18/1999) and Scott Riggs (4/10/2005) won their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway.
* The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting spot in the field at Martinsville producing more wins (21) than any other starting position.
* 36 of the 132 (27.2 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the front row: 21 from the pole and 15 from second-place.
* 95 of the 132 (71.9 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
* Seven of the 132 (5.3 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a starting position outside the top 20 – including both races last season.
* The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 36th, by Kurt Busch in the fall of 2002.
* Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions eight times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway; the most recent was the fall race of 2011.

Martinsville Speedway Notes & Facts – history:

* Opened in September 1947 by H. Clay Earles, Martinsville, originally a dirt track, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States.
* The first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Martinsville was on July 4, 1948.
* The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was Sept. 25, 1949.
* The track was paved in 1955.
* The first 500-lap event at Martinsville was in 1956.
* Concrete corners were added atop asphalt in 1976.

Martinsville Speedway – Top 10 Driver Ratings:
#48-Jimmie Johnson 122.5
#24-Jeff Gordon 119.8
#11-Denny Hamlin 110.1
#88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. 101.2
#14-Tony Stewart 97.6
#18-Kyle Busch 96.2
#15-Clint Bowyer 95.0
#4-Kevin Harvick 91.8
#31-Ryan Newman 87.4
#22-Joey Logano 85.1
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (20 total) among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway. Formula combines the following categories: Win, Finish, Top-15 Finish, Average Running Position while on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race.

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