With no practice due to a rainy weekend, the Cup drivers unleashed their pent up aggression on the short track of Martinsville. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 65th running of the STP 500.
Surprising: The closest that Hendrick Motorsports got to Victory Lane at Martinsville was the motor and chassis as Kurt Busch surprisingly took his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet to the checkered flag.
The win also marked significant milestones for driver and crew chief as this was Busch’s 25th Cup win and his crew chief Daniel Knost’s first win as a crew chief.
Busch’s 83 start winless drought finally came to a close, with his last victory prior to this at the Monster Mile in the fall race of 2011.
“Every time you come to Martinsville you draw a line through it; like there’s no way I’ll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys,” Busch said. “The Stewart-Haas team gave me a team to do it.”
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to deliver.”
Not Surprising: While Brad Keselowski had some harsh words to say about the race winner, sarcastically ‘thanking Kurt’ after tangling with him early in the race and finishing 38th, he kept his sense of humor when he took to Twitter after the race.
“I’m here,” Keselowski tweeted when a follower said that he would probably not be on social media for a while. “Laughing at all the hate tweets. #freeEntertainment.”
With that difficult finish, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford dropped three spots to seventh in the point standings.
Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was surprisingly disappointed with not getting a clock, even though he finished third in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet and took the points lead away from Carl Edwards.
“Well, it was up and down,” Junior said of his race. “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 cost us a little bit.”
Junior and girlfriend Amy Reimann did, however, console themselves with a Martinsville hot dog as his “reward” for finishing third, tweeting a picture of the celebration from the plane.
This was Earnhardt Jr.’s 16th top-10 finish in 29 races at the track known as the ‘Paper Clip.’
Not Surprising: Martinsville made for some interesting milestones, including another new winner for the season and a record number of lead changes.
Kurt Busch became the sixth different winner in six races to date and there were a record 33 lead changes among 12 drivers, the most ever at Martinsville. The previous record for lead changes was 31, set in April of 2011.
Surprising: They may have been driving with heavy hearts due to the death of Miss Lynda Petty, the King’s late wife, but the two Richard Petty Motorsports drivers pulled off great finishes, with Marcos Ambrose in fifth and Aric Almirola in eighth.
In fact, this was only the fourth time that the two RPM teammates have finished in the top-10 together, but the second time in six races this season.
““We’ve had a really tough week. We lost Miss Lynda.” Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 DeWalt Ford said. “We really wanted to win for them bad out there, but we’ll take a top five.”
“I’m really proud of all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports,” Almirola, driver of the No. 43 STP Ford, said. “If we keep running like this, we’ll get to Victory Lane.”
Not Surprising: The highest finishing Ford was Joey Logano, who deemed his drive in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford “a battle.”
“This race is really hard, but we finished where we deserved to finish,” Logano said after finishing fourth. “That’s where we ran and that’s about all we had.”
“I wish we had a little more.”
Surprising: “That’s all I had,” are words that are eerily similar to Logano’s but are not typically heard from six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. But that was his summary of the race as well at one of his strongest tracks.
“I’d been loose in the final third of the race and was hanging on there,” Johnson, who finished runner up in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, said. “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,” Johnson continued. “I ran the rear tires off the car.”
“That’s all I had.”
This was Johnson’s 22nd top-10 finish in 25 races at Martinsville Speedway and his fourth top-10 finish in the 2014 season.
Not Surprising: While most drivers are focused on the wins, Jamie McMurray was thinking about points and shaking his head.
McMurray, behind the wheel of the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet, was involved in an on-track incident with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 199 that caused him to finish 42nd and falling eleven spots in the point standings to 23rd.
“I thought the No. 88 would be a little more patient with me. I had gotten by him in lap 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,” Jamie Mac said. “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 point’s loss,” McMurray continued. “It’s fun to run well but that is what you will think about for the next five days.”
Surprising: After missing the previous race week due to metal in his eye and after vowing to make a comeback and win at a track where he has the third-best driver rating, it was most surprising to see Denny Hamlin finish a disappointing 19th.
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota had ignition issues and then was just plain slow during the race.
“Just a frustrating day, especially when you know that this is a race track that I feel like I can make up a difference here and there,” Hamlin said. “We were a football field and then some away from the right set up today.”
Not Surprising: Austin Dillon, behind the wheel of the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet was the highest finishing rookie, finishing 15th at the very demanding short track.
“I had some good runs there in my truck but it was totally different in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car,” Dillon said. “It’s one of those races where you have to fight to stay in it.”
“Things were definitely wild there.”
The Cup Series will move from the short track of Martinsville to the track in Texas where everything is big for the Duck Commander 500.