Hosting the first Eliminator race in the Chase, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 66th annual Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Surprising: While some tributes were expected, especially with the remembrance of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash at Martinsville ten years ago, other tributes also abounded, from the race winner’s tribute to his crew chief to the tribute of Front Row Motorsports to Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott.
“He turned my career around,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, paying tribute to his crew chief Steve Letarte after winning his first ever race at Martinsville. “He put a great team together. What he’s accomplished is impressive as hell. I’m overwhelmed with what he’s been able to do.”
“He put me in Victory Lane,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet continued about his crew chief. “Like I say, the team he’s assembled, incredible group. That’s all Steve. He seems to have evolved into one of the best crew chiefs in the garage.”
The other major tribute at Sunday’s Martinsville race was to Wendell Scott, the first African American to win in NASCAR competition. Darrell Wallace Jr. carried the tribute paint scheme to Victory Lane in the Truck Series race and David Ragan piloted his Scott tribute No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car to a tenth place finish in the Cup race.
“Last Sunday was a good day for us,” Ragan said. “To get a top-10 finish was a real shot in the arm for this team and for Front Row Motorsports, and to do it in the Wendell Scott tribute car made it even more special.”
Not Surprising: It’s not often that the race runner up is embarrassed, but four-time champion driving for five Jeff Gordon was just that, taking his lumps for his mistake speeding on pit road.
“I’m embarrassed to say this,” the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet said. “Completely my fault.”
“We do two settings, one in first gear, one in second gear. A late sequence for each one. I ran second gear under my light sequence for first gear,” Gordon continued. “I was supposed to run one green light in second gear and one red light in first gear. I ran one red light in second gear. That’s way too fast.”
“I knew right then I was speeding.”
Surprising: After no Talladega ‘big one’ the previous race, it was surprising to see a huge, hard wreck at one of the sport’s shortest tracks. The Martinsville ‘big one’ included Kasey Kahne and Casey Mears taking big hits, as well as Danica Patrick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex and Brian Vickers involved in the melee.
“I just didn’t really see him (No. 2, Brad Keselowski) slowing down,” Kahne said. “I think my spotter was spotting me and I think he saw it last second. As soon as he said it I hit the brakes, but it was way too late.”
“It was a pretty good hit.”
“I was behind the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) and I guess the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) was just backing up on the outside, I don’t know what happened,” Casey Mears said. “I saw the No. 43 go a little bit low and I was just using up all the track and right when I hit the No. 2 my spotter said the No. 2 is backing up. I just plowed him.”
“I ran into him hard.”
Not Surprising: Smoke did rise again at Martinsville, albeit with a bit of a gamble staying out on old tires to finish 4th place in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet.
“I don’t even think it was a gutsy call,” Tony Stewart said. “To me it was a no-brainer and if we were in that spot 100 times, that is the choice I want to make. I want to give ourselves a chance to fight for it like that.”
“This car was pretty good all weekend,” Smoke continued. “I just can’t thank Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shops) and Rusty Rush and everybody at Mobil 1 and Eric (Bagdikian) from Code 3 Associates and his staff; and most of all, our fans.”
“They have been plowing a tough road for the last 18 months and this top 5 is for the fans more than anybody.”
Surprising: Austin Dillon again outscored Kyle Larson in the Rookie of the Race battle, for the second week in a row. RCR driver Dillon finished 12th after starting 19th and Larson, in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet, finished 30th after a crash on Lap 487.
“I’m really proud of everyone at RCR today,” Dillon said. “I was hoping to pass the No. 34 at the very end there to gain one more position and finish 11th, but a 12th-place finish – hey we’ll take it.”
“It was a true team effort.”
“I was terrible all day,” Larson, the other rookie contender said of his Martinsville adventure. “I’m just not very good at this track.”
“I kept running into the back of people when cars five or six in front of me would check up, then it would get to me and I’d hit them,” Larson continued. “It was a really bad race for me.”
Not Surprising: Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne proved that three times was a charm in bringing out the yellow flag together. The two drivers mixed it up royally and potentially could have caused four or more cautions had they not been warned by NASCAR to cool it down.
“He definitely wrecked us on purpose the first time, I mean look at the video,” Vickers said of his incidents with Kahne. “He just hooked us in the bumper and just wrecked us, I don’t know why.”
“I was actually passing him off of (Turn) 2 and he didn’t give me room and I was going to hit the wall so I lifted a little,” Kahne said in response. “And then he kind of went high into (Turn) 3, and that’s where I was entering so he blocked. So I went low to pass him and then he chopped low across and spun himself out.”
“He was using up the whole race track so I was going high, then he went high,” Kahne continued. “Then I decided to go low, and he went low and spun himself out on my front end. I was confused as to why he would want to do that. Then later on he crashed me. I don’t know what his deal was he was using up the whole track. You get one lane you don’t get all of them.”
Surprising: In addition to the wrecking and tempers flaring, there were also actual flames on the track, from Timmy Hill, who went ablaze early, to Kurt Busch, who had a conflagration in his car on Lap 424.
“I think we ruptured an oil line,” Busch said. “Whether it was the fitting or the line itself, I don’t know.”
“But we had a really good run. We were in the mix. We were running up front with the Haas Automation Chevy and we were in that spot where we won that race this spring,” the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet continued. “I was hoping to get off the broom, but instead we’ve got our broom cleaning up our kitty litter.”
Not Surprising: The winless wonders continued their quiet and calculated consistency at Martinsville, with Ryan Newman finishing third and Matt Kenseth taking the checkered flag in the sixth position.
“The strategy of two tires there at the end worked out good for us,” Newman said. “Right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, kept the guys behind us that had four tires.”
“Just a great team effort for the Quicken Loans Chevrolet, everybody at RCR,” Newman continued. “It was fun to have at least our highest running position be the last lap of the race.”
“We didn’t run the way we wanted to run,” Kenseth said. “We still finished respectably with all the stuff that happened. Like I said, we didn’t run great today, but they made some good calls and did the right things at the end and finished strong.”
Surprising: AJ Allmendinger continued to surprise with his “little engine that could’ team finishing ninth in his No. 47 Clorox Products Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing.
“Good day, honestly maybe one of the best days we have had all year just in the sense of not great early on, fighting hard,” ‘Dinger said. “The guys had good pit stops and then a couple of adjustments there.”
“In a way ninth is a little bit disappointing,” Allmendinger continued. “But overall just really proud of the team that was probably one of the best efforts we have had all year.”
Not Surprising: Revenge is mine said one Kevin Harvick after the race of his struggles with competitor Matt Kenseth, with whom he tussled on track.
“The good thing about this format is you have two more weeks and two race tracks that we can win on,” Harvick said after being involved in an early accident and finishing 33rd. “Everybody was so worried about us starting in the back and we wrecked at the front. Unfortunate.”
And of his Kenseth issues, Harvick had a rather cryptic remark about his competitor to end the race weekend.
“Yeah, he won’t win this championship. If we don’t, he won’t.”