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NASCAR Martinsville postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, April 04, 2011

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A healthy crowd was on hand Sunday in Martinsville
Getty Images for NASCAR
Make no point about it, last weekend's action at the "paper clip," aka Martinsville Speedway. had a lot of interesting story lines. For the second time in seven days, Kevin Harvick spent a Sunday afternoon turning some seemingly ineffective laps around a race track only to surface at the end of the event to steal the show. Meanwhile the members of the Junior Nation, Dale Earnhardt Jr's fan club, practically needed oxygen because we all thought their favorite driver was finally going back to victory lane. Then there was the matter of Kyle Busch who, by his own admission, "gave away" two races at Martinsville within 24 hours. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP for Kevin "Happy" Harvick for winning Sunday's Goody’s Fast Relief 500 by, once again, showing up, during the final laps, to claim the race. Harvick's excellent seven days began at the Auto Club Speedway in California, where he stole the show on the final lap, and moved on to Martinsville where he lead a grand total of six laps. During both of these events Harvick spent much of the afternoon driving an ill handling car. At the conclusion of both races we were all asking: "where did he come from?"

That leads to a THUMBS-UP to crew chief Gil Martin and his Richard Childress Racing team whose refusal to lay down and quit attitude played a major role in getting their driver to the front of the field when it counted the most. After they left Daytona 37th in points, the #29 squad has moved up to fifth in the points standings and are definitely looking like a championship team.

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THUMBS-UP to Dale Earnhardt Jr for whipping the "Junior Nation" into a frenzy and coming this close to ending a win less streak that dates back to June of 2008. Earnhardt passed Kyle Busch, with 20 laps remaining in the race, and the fans went crazy. Unfortunately a loose condition allowed Harvick to pull the "where did he come from" rally during the final four laps to steal the show, but for a few moments there it was like old times and good to see.

Earnhardt's charge to the front was largely due to the pit box efforts from crew chief Steve Letarte and the driver was the first to say "Steve did an awesome job on pit strategies, that's what got us up there." Their Martinsville effort was definitely the shot in the arm this team has needed for quite awhile.

Meanwhile in our living room, the card carrying member of the Junior Nation girlfriend was busy screaming "whoo hoos" that would have made Homer Simpson proud. I actually had to turn up the volume on the television just to hear the broadcast.

When the Goody’s Fast Relief reached its conclusion there were two important points that Harvick was well aware of. The first was obvious" he had just won his second, consecutive, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The second point was also obvious: there were a lot of fans not very pleased with what he did to their beloved Dale Jr. After the race Harvick said "I could see people going crazy in turn 2 when he took the lead from Kyle, and I was catching him, and I'm like man, I'm going to be the bad guy here. But I've got to do what I've got to do, we're in it to win it."

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Prior to the race everyone was sure that drivers Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin were going to be major players in the outcome. After all, the two of them had won the last nine Martinsville races in a row. To a certain extent they were players throughout the race at least for awhile.

But WHAT'S-UP with Johnson getting caught speeding on pit road? The five time series champion led 65 laps and was a major factor in the race until this point. It's a very rare miscue for this driver that turned a possible race win into an 11th place finish. To no real surprise, Johnson disputed the call after the race. The video shot of crew chief Chad Knaus hanging his head in despair pretty much told the story for the #48 team.

WHAT'S-UP with Denny Hamlin's fuel mileage? This is an element in racing that's always going to be a concern to teams but it bit Hamlin especially hard. He led the race seven times, for a total of 89 laps, only to have to settle for a disappointing 12th place finish. Prior to that the Virginia driver gave all of the appearances of being capable of winning his third, consecutive, race at his home track.

WHAT'S-UP with that horrendous accident suffered by Martin Truex Jr? On lap 221, a hung throttle caused his car to slam into Kasey Kahne and then hit the wall with such force that the engine compartment burst into flames. The end result was a red flag, that lasted for approximately 25 minutes, so track crews could clean up the debris and repair the damaged retaining wall.

That leads to a THUMBS-UP for the NASCAR mandated safety equipment both in the cars and on the track. This is especially true of the SAFER barrier retaining wall. It wasn't that many years ago when this safety equipment wasn't it place and the Truex accident would have been a very serious situation. Truex also gets a THUMBS-UP for immediately running over to Kahne's car to make sure his friend, and fellow Toyota driver, was not hurt.

This week's THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do goes to Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth. At the very beginning of Sunday's race, Kenseth made a rare mistake and changed racing lanes prior to crossing under the green flag at the start/finish line. That led to a drive through penalty which is often the death knell of a driver's hope to win the race especially on a short track. Kenseth rejoined the race one and a half laps down. He eventually returned to the lead lap, via the lucky dog policy, but that process took over 220 laps to accomplish. Kenseth turned a guaranteed bad day into a sixth place finish and remains in the coveted top ten of the points standings.

WHAT'S-UP with Kyle Busch, in his own words, "giving away" a Martinsville sweep? Busch was his usual dominant self during the Martinsville weekend. On Sunday he led the race six times for a race high 151 laps only to lose the lead during the waning laps following a light bump and run from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Busch had to settle for third following Kevin Harvick's late arrival in the race outcome.

During Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Busch led 64 laps of the Kroger 250 only to get the bump and run by race winner Johnny Sauter on the final lap. But Kyle Busch does deserve a THUMBS-UP for gracious interviews following both races and once again displayed what appears to be another moment in personal growth. We're all well aware that it wasn't that long ago the "Rowdy One" would have stomped off towards the horizon, with steam spewing from his ears and nostrils, while refusing to speak to anyone especially a live television crew.

That, in turn leads to a THUMBS-UP to Johnny Sauter for an impressive, race winning, performance at Martinsville. He has the distinction of becoming the first truck series regular to claim a victory this year. The win also moves him to the top of the points just ahead of team mate Matt Crafton which also places Thorsport Racing one-two in the series' championship standings.

The celebration for Sauter and company was short lived at Martinsville. The driver had to return home right after the race. The Sauters were expecting the planned arrival of their second child, a baby girl, on Monday morning and we send them a GOD Bless for that joyous occasion.

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Our final THUMBS-UPS of the week goes to comments, from the Martinsville weekend, inspired by NASCAR legend, turned Fox Sports broadcaster, Darrell Waltrip. Old school NASCAR fans will recall back in the day when Waltrip won the Daytona 500 and introduced a victory lane dance forever known as "the iggy shuffle." The effort has been forever branded as one of the silliest moments in NASCAR history.

During a pre race interview with Kevin Harvick, Waltrip decided to teach his guest that victory lane dance. If you can imagine two contestants from the television show "Dancing With The Stars" after too much Budweiser, that's pretty much what this dance lesson resembled. After the race was over it was pointed out to Waltrip that Harvick didn't do the "iggy shuffle" in victory lane. Waltrip quipped "that's because he can't dance. The boy can flat drive a race car, but the boy just can't dance."

During the red flag portion of Sunday's race, Waltrip was doing an in car interview with Kyle Busch. Some of those famous, bright red, Martinsville hot dogs were delivered to the broadcast booth and Waltrip asked Busch if he wanted him to send him one. Busch declined the offer and said "I've got a couple of hours to go before I can get to the restroom so I'd better not."

The absolute final THUMBS-UP goes to Budweiser and that marvelous commercial that aired during Sunday's Martinsville race. It's the one where the family throws a surprise welcome home party for the young soldier returning from the middle east. The ad ends with the caption "proudly serving those who serve." It's a great reminder for us all to say thank you to any member of our armed forces when we see them.

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