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March 31st, 2014
Volume VIII, Edition XXXVIII
Sprint Cup Race Recap: Busch Snaps Long Dry Spell, Wins At Martinsville
by Justin Tucker
On Sunday afternoon at historic Martinsville Speedway, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson would stage an epic duel in the closing laps of the STP 500. It was a track Johnson, the six-time champ had mastered through the years compared to one Busch hadn't won at since 2002.
Sunday's win for Busch was an emotional one as he spoke of the long path he took to get there in Victory Lane, one that included three teams, a one-race suspension and many tracks where a return to racing's elite seemed impossible.
"It’s amazing how many things have to fall into place, and so I never doubted myself," Busch said. "I never gave up. I kept trying to find little stones to uncover and rocks to overturn to try to make teams better for the way that I knew how to make them."
"I've been on this journey for a while," the driver added. "Every time you come to Martinsville, you just have to draw a line through it like, 'There's no way I'll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys or be up in that top 10.' This Stewart-Haas team gave me a car to do it."
Early on, Busch looked like the furthest thing from a contender, simply surviving after pit road contact with Brad Keselowski caused the driver of the No. 2 car to tip over the edge. Coming back on-track, with a hoodless Ford Busch's former teammate spent several laps trying to wreck them both (see: Sidebars stories below). Busch, whose No. 41 had scrapes all along the right side of his car suffered in midpack, much of the day before crew chief Daniel Knost hit on a setup package down the stretch to move them forward. Entering the top 5, the team was at its best after final adjustments, swapping the lead with Johnson multiple times in the final 50 circuits before edging in front for good.
"I didn't know if I'd be able to do it, because the No. 48 car (Johnson) is king here, him and the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon)," Busch said. "And this is that old theory, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I've got a Hendrick chassis prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing, a Hendrick motor. Thanks to those guys."
Six-time Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson would rebound from a disappointing last two weeks with a dominant run in Sunday's STP 500. Johnson would lead a race-high 296 of 500 laps and appeared to be in prime position to claim his ninth grandfather clock. However, the handling of Johnson's No. 48 faded in the closing laps, leaving him to settle for a strong second-place effort. It was another so-close moment for the team after blowing a tire while leading the final laps at Fontana.
"That's all I had," Johnson said. "I ran the rear tires off the car, I flipped every switch and knob I could, hit the front brake and turned fans off trying to get my balance back, but (the car was) just a little too loose there."
Joining Busch and Johnson in the top 5 of Sunday's STP 500 were Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in third, Joey Logano, earning a nice bounceback from Fontana in fourth, and Marcos Ambrose, fifth for his second top 5 in three weeks.
Matt Kenseth finished sixth, charging back from a lap down Sunday while Kevin Harvick was seventh. Aric Almirola ran eighth, completing a strong weekend for Richard Petty Motorsports on a week where Richard's wife, Lynda, passed away. Clint Bowyer, in the lead at one point before problems on his final pit stop finished ninth while Paul Menard rounded out the top 10.
A look at the STP 500 by the numbers: There were a record 33 lead changes among 12 different drivers. 14 cautions for 92 laps slowed the race pace to 72.176 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the heart of Texas and Texas Motor Speedway for the Duck Commander 500. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 PM ET.
Justin Tucker is a Newsletter Contributor at Frontstretch. To reach Justin, please contact Newsletter Manager Phil Allaway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chasing the Chase: Earnhardt Jr. Reclaims Points Lead
Despite starting on the pole, Kyle Busch was all over the place Sunday. With crew chief Dave Rogers admittedly testing, running an aggressive setup once the dust settled, Kyle finished 14th, which was still good enough to move up to sixth in points. Brad Keselowski is now seventh, dropping three positions after a pit road collision with Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch broke the steering on his Miller Lite Ford. The resulting 30-lap stay in the garage not only ruined Keselowski's day, but angered the champion as well. One point behind Keselowski is Joey Logano, who spent much of the race up front and finished fourth. Finally, rookie Austin Dillon maintains the ninth spot, while Ryan Newman rounds out the top 10. Both had uneventful days at Martinsville, where Richard Childress Racing struggled but Dillon was still the highest-finishing rookie (15th) while Newman scored a lead-lap finish in 20th.
Phil Allaway is the Newsletter Manager and a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Critic84.
Never Fear, The Underdogs Are Here: Martinsville Edition
by Amy Henderson
Are you a fan of a driver from a smaller team? Do you ever see one of these guys on the race results and wonder how he got there? NASCAR's small teams may not get much airtime during the race broadcast, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about. Each week, Amy Henderson takes a peek into how the little guys fared in the race.
Underdog Selection No. 1: AJ Allmendinger for JTG-Daugherty Racing; started 15th, finished 11th
This team is fast becoming the best of the small-time organizations, and in the process is getting close to shedding that "underdog" label altogether. Allmendinger ran a clean, smart race on Sunday, racing into the top 5 early on. He'd fade a bit late, the victim of poor pit strategy when the No. 47 team and crew chief Brian Burns chose to stay out on old tires. That damaged Allmendinger's confidence a bit, on the radio although the team did rally after falling outside the top 20.
Still, this result, following a top 10 in Fontana is arguably the best stretch for JTG Daugherty in several years. Allmendinger is showing why Roger Penske didn't want to let him go, and the team is showing what can be done with top-flight equipment and solid information sharing. Allmendinger is currently 16th in driver points — in position to contend for a Chase spot, easily best in class among his small-team peers.
Underdog Selection No. 2: Justin Allgaier for HScott Motorsports; started 25th, finished 23rd
This is a team that showed potential early last year when the Gen-6 car was new, under the Phoenix Racing banner. They've struggled more this year, but Allgaier was solid Sunday after suffering damage early that forced him to pit road just three laps into the race. Allgaier was able to use strategy, conserving tires and taking a Lucky Dog to get back onto the lead lap by the end. 23rd was salvaging an OK finish, second in class amongst its peers. The team has work to do, but they have a dedicated owner who's committed to this rookie driver, and both are new to the Cup Series…improvement will come.
Underdog Selection No. 3: Casey Mears for Germain Racing; started 23rd, finished 24th
Unlike JTG Daugherty Racing, Germain Racing hasn't been able to turn their technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing into the results they're capable of, though just why is a bit of a puzzle. Mears is a capable, experienced driver and the team has championships in the Camping World Truck Series. But whatever the reason, they're not quite getting a handle on their setups, and Mears has fallen from 11th to 21st in points since Daytona. Still, this team can have a bit of a pass for Martinsville; they got damage in a lap 3 incident, not of their making. Then, Mears got turned by David Gilliland at lap 171, and the shifter broke in the car, leaving Mears with only fourth gear for much of the race. Considering all that, 24th wasn't terrible, but it also could have been much better.
Underdog Pick of the Week - Texas I: AJ Allmendinger for JTG-Daugherty Racing
My pick for Martinsville was Casey Mears, who ran 24th after just about everything that could have gone wrong, did.
This week, we head to Texas, a track that isn't kind to a team which doesn't have upper-tier equipment. With that in mind, I'll go with Allmendinger, who does have an advantage in the equipment department right now, despite a lower Texas average than Casey Mears, who's in similar stuff. Allmendinger is on a roll right now while Mears needs to regroup, so my money's on the No. 47 this week.
Is your favorite driver among NASCAR's underdogs? Are you frustrated with the lack of coverage they receive during race broadcasts? Amy has all the small teams covered each and every week in The Big Six. Be sure to check it out to see how your favorites fared!
Letters of the Races: Sunday's STP 500 was brought to you by the letter "A," for Action Packed. There was a lot of racing for position on track Sunday, and those who braved the windy, 50 degree weather witnessed an excellent race live.
Meanwhile, Sunday's Kroger 250 was brought to you by the letter "H," for "Heady." That's a nickname for the headlight camera installed on Johnny Sauter's No. 98. With Sauter using his truck in the manner of a battering ram on track, Heady had an excellent view for all of Sauter's rooting manuevers. - Phil Allaway
Sidebar Stories: Martinsville
by Phil Allaway, Tom Bowles and Amy Henderson
"I started to check up and I just barely got in the back of him and Kurt (Busch) just accelerated and drove through us, absolutely drove through us," Keselowski said inside the garage. "I tell you what, I’m about tired of his recklessness."
After that, Busch got focused, starting a drive that would end with him in Victory Lane. Keselowski, meanwhile ran 38th and still remained frustrated after the race.
"Tell him come here. I’m right here," he said when told Busch was OK with fighting. "He knows where I’m at. Leave Victory Lane and we’ll go.”
"He does awesome things for charity and he’s probably the most talented race car driver, but he’s also one of the dumbest, so put those three together."
At press time, Keselowski had calmed down a bit, claiming he wasn't trying to wreck Busch on Twitter and that the rivalry would not continue into Texas. No penalties from NASCAR, by the way occurred during the race or are expected for either side.
Due to Saturday's complete washout, the Camping World Truck Series held their second race of the season immediately after the Sprint Cup Series' STP 500 wrapped up. With a 5:30 PM start time, some feared the race would be called early due to darkness. Ultimately, that was not a concern.
In a quick event, Matt Crafton took the lead from local favorite Timothy Peters on Lap 209. From there, Crafton held off the rest of the pack through two green-white-checkered restarts to claim his first career Martinsville grandfather clock.
In the scrum on the final restart, Darrell Wallace, Jr. rose up to second, while rookie Ben Kennedy was third. Johnny Sauter finished fourth while using the front end of his Toyota Tundra in a manner similar to a battering ram. Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-5 finishers.
For more on Sunday's Camping World Truck Series race, please check out Kelly Crandall's Tracking the Trucks race recap at Frontstretch.
NASCAR Unveils Air Titan 2.0
NASCAR introduced an improved Air Titan track dryer on Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway. Called Air Titan 2.0, the new system will be faster, more fuel efficient, and require fewer support vehicles than its predecessor. The new Air Titan is a self-contained unit, which is mounted on the back of a pickup truck, and while it requires less fuel to operate, it produces more than twice as much air volume as the original.
According to a NASCAR press release, Air Titan 2.0 could fill the Goodyear Blimp with air in 3.4 seconds and dry a football field in 20.5 seconds. It triples the blade capacity of the original Air Titan while using 78% less fuel and emitting 80% less carbon dioxide. As a result, it will reduce track drying by up to 50 percent depending on weather conditions. The higher the humidity in the air, the longer it will take to dry the racing surface. The system works in conjunction with jet dryers and the Elgin track vacuum/sweeper.
"The track conditions today were extremely challenging with the marbles," said Kenseth, who recovered to run sixth while Stewart wasn't so lucky (17th). "They just wouldn’t clean them up — I don’t know why. If you had warm tires and you got pushed up in there then you were going to lose 15 spots sometimes — it was that bad."
If the story sounds familiar to readers, it should. Last Fall, track temperatures struggled to reach 80 degrees through much of the race. However, the tire issues that resulted were not quite as severe.
Quotes to Remember: STP 500
"A win like today is a great step forward. I don't want it to camouflage any of the work, though, that we still have to do to make our car stronger and to be more competitive week in and week out, but don't think that I'm not going to enjoy this for one moment.
I'm going to soak this in. This is an unbelievable feeling, to get back to victory lane after this tour that I've been on, to find this opportunity with Stewart‑Haas, and to win, it means the world to me. That's what I've always driven for was just going for the W's and you let the rough edges drag on the other side. You get compared to guys that are sponsor dreams and they've won one or two races, and now to hear that I have 25 wins and to have a championship and to hoist a trophy at a track that I would draw a line through this track every time I'd show up not ever having a shot to win because it was one of my worst tracks. So it shows what teamwork is all about. That's what I want everybody to take away from today is teamwork. What better way to win than using that old cliché, can't beat 'em, join 'em. I've got a Hendrick chassis and a Hendrick motor prepared by Stewart‑Haas Racing, and we brought our No. 41 car home to Victory Lane." - Kurt Busch, race winner
"I'd been loose in the final third of the race and was hanging on there. When (Kurt Busch) got back by me, I was hopefully that he'd wear his stuff out and I could get back by him. He did, but I couldn't hold him off. I started to get looser and looser. I hate it. We had a very fast race car. I wish we could have gotten this for Rick (Hendrick's) 30th anniversary." - Jimmie Johnson, finished second
"Well, it was up and down. We just had to save tires, keep the tires on the car and keep the left-rear on the car. We didn’t have enough to win the race. Just thought when we got to third, maybe we could get up there. Those guys were working their cars pretty hard, working their tires pretty hard, but we ran out of tire there just trying to get by those lap guys that were giving me the top in the corner and I don’t need to be up there running. That costs us a little bit, to be able to get a shot at getting to their bumpers and maybe making another run at it. Real happy with the job the guys did on the car. We weren’t happy Friday at all. We made the car a lot better." - Dale Earnhardt, Jr., finished third
"Just a really proud day for the DeWalt team on the 9 side for Richard Petty Motorsports. We’ve had a really tough week. We lost Miss Lynda. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Petty family right now. We really wanted to win for them bad out there, but we’ll take a top five. We’re really proud of our efforts. We had great pit stops all day. Our guys probably had their best day on pit road in a long time and Drew Blickensderfer and Derek on the pit box made great calls late in the race. If we would have had another round of pit stops, we might have had something for them." - Marcos Ambrose, finished fifth
"It was up and down -- thankfully, it ended on a fairly up note. We got it a little bit better there, at the end but the middle of the race was really a struggle. We lost some track position where I got hung on the outside -- I just couldn’t make any holes and I couldn’t make anything happen. Then, there at the end we had the inside, we got the car a little bit better and was able to make some spots up. Kind of disappointed because at the beginning of the race I thought we were going to have something we could race them with and just kind of lost it there in the middle of the race." - Matt Kenseth, finished sixth
"Our car was very touchy to the clouds. When it would cloud up, my car would get real loose and then, when the sun would come out my car would get better and it would tighten out, but we bounced around on adjustments all day and couldn’t ever get the car balanced right. We would either be too tight or too loose and we really struggled for forward drive, which really hurt us on longer runs. All in all, I’m still really proud of these guys. Everybody on this STP Ford Fusion did a great job and we’ll take an eighth after last weekend, get some points back and keep going." - Aric Almirola, finished eighth
"A very disappointing finish considering how we ran -- we should have been better than that. The guys did a great job in the pits all day. The Aaron’s Dream Machine Camry was really good on long runs and good on mid-runs. We would push a little bit on restarts. We just went too far there and got way too loose [at the end]. It’s a shame because we had a good car." - Brian Vickers, finished 16th
"Just slow -- that’s the only thing that was wrong with us today. Just frustrating, especially when you know that this is a race track that I feel like I can make up a difference here and there. We were a football field and then some away from the right setup today." On the shut off issues during the race: "I had ignition issues -- the car was shutting off in the corners and that was frustrating. Setup-wise, we really could have used Saturday. Thinking that as fast as we were on Friday that it probably would play into our advantage not having practice on Saturday, but there was a laundry list of things that we needed to try and didn’t get to do it. Obviously, this car and the setup that we had was really good for 10 laps, but it just goes away too much after that. We have to get to work, have to do some testing -- it’s the only thing you can do to get better." - Denny Hamlin, finished 19th
"We passed a lot of cars today but too many things happened to us that eventually cost us a strong finish. After the speeding penalty, we were moving again but then I got spun out later which stalled our momentum. As we did last week, we battled hard with our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet but couldn’t close the deal with the finish I felt we deserved. That (speeding penalty) hurt. But we felt we had time to get back up there. I believe we were running in 17th place and moving up when I got spun out (Lap 412). We suffered more damage to an already damaged car, but battled as hard as we could to finish 21st." - Martin Truex, Jr., finished 21st
"It was a disappointing day. We ran so well at Martinsville last year, but we struggled all race long today. It’s disappointing for everyone on the GoDaddy team. We had high hopes coming into this race based off what we accomplished last year, but we missed the setup. Tony (Gibson, crew chief) made changes every time we came to pit road and really hit on something around halfway. But by that point, we were already a couple of laps down. We tried staying out on a couple of the cautions to take the wave-around and get a couple of laps back. It wound up biting us toward the end, when we had to make a green-flag pit stop because the tires were killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t the finish we were looking for today." - Danica Patrick, finished 32nd
"Yeah, the same thing [happened at Kentucky]. He wrecked me for no reason 15-30 laps in, whatever, early in the race just being overaggressive. Aggressive is good, but lap 50 wrecking somebody, if you’re gonna be aggressive wreck yourself don’t wreck me. I’ll remember that when it’s lap 50, he needs a break and he’ll find his ass turned around in the wall just like he tore my car up. That stuff will come around. Once or twice when it happens you go, ‘Oh, it happens,’ but when it happens repeatedly then you just realize who the person is that’s at fault and you just have to make sure that you show them you’re not gonna take that, and I’m not gonna take that. I know this 2 team is not gonna take it. We had a race-winning car today, instead we finished thirty-whatever with the whole front end tore off of it. That’s inexcusable and I’m not gonna put up with that." - Brad Keselowski, finished 38th, on the Kurt Busch wreck
"I am proud of my team. We didn’t give up and we finished the race. We will have to go back and see what broke. The past two weeks have really hurt us in the point standings so we have to get better. It’s early in the season so we will rebound in Texas." - Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., finished 40th
"There was a lapped car holding up our pack. I thought the No. 88 would be a little more patient with me. I had gotten by him in lapped traffic. Then, he got on my inside. When he got into me, it was like it couldn’t get off and spun me around and just got into the wall there. Really unfortunate; had a good car, every race we’ve had good cars. You just wish you weren’t racing for points because that is the hardest part to swallow is the points loss. It’s fun to run well but that is what you will think about for the next five days." - Jamie McMurray, finished 42nd
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TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:
Thinkin' Out Loud: STP 500
by Mike Neff
Pace Laps: JGR vs RPM, IndyCar Officiating and Red Horse Racing Politics
by the Frontstretch Staff
The Big Six: Questions Answered After the STP 500
by Amy Henderson
Petty and Martinsville: A Continued Success Story
by Aaron Creed
by Toni Montgomery
Q: The 1998 True Value 500 for the Indy Racing League had a lot of trouble getting started. Billy Roe spun on the initial start of the race, causing a caution. Right after the restart, another incident took a number of drivers out of the race. What happened?
Check back Tuesday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!
Q: For Randy Renfrow, 1996 was his first taste of national exposure. Driving a No. 41 Ford partially sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, Renfrow ran very well, putting his truck up into the top 10 on multiple occasions. The Hanes 250 at Martinsville was no exception. Renfrow started ninth and kept himself in the top 10 all day, often taking advantage of the rarely used outside line. Racing-Reference says that Renfrow crashed out, but that's not true. What really put Renfrow out for the day?
A: Unfortunately, Renfrow completely burned up his brakes. With 25 laps to go, Renfrow went up the track and nearly hit the wall in Turn 2. At that point, Renfrow knew that he could no longer continue to race competitively. Since Renfrow was part-time, the team made the decision to pull out of the race.
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Coming Tuesday in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Top News by Greg Davis
-- Fan's View Commentary by S.D. Grady
-- Numbers Game: STP 500 by Tom Bowles
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, and more!
Tomorrow on the Frontstretch:
Five Points to Ponder by Danny Peters
Danny returns for his weekly edition of talking points, which will wrap up the action in Martinsville and get us ready for Texas.
Couch Potato Tuesday by Phil Allaway
This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series raced a doubleheader at Martinsville Speedway. Meanwhile, the newly renamed Verizon IndyCar Series held their season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida. Were the telecasts of these events "up to snuff?" Find out in this week's TV Critique.
We'll take a look at which drivers are sitting pretty after five races -- and who is looking forward to Easter Break at home.
Racing to the Point by Brett Poirier
Brett is back with another commentary to make you think.
Voices From The Heartland by Jeff Meyer
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