Monday, October 31, 2011

Notes From A Wild Sunday In Martinsville

Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway gave the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship picture a major shake, severely damaging the title hopes of a number of drivers, while pushing others back into contention. Here are some highlights -- and low lights -- from a busy day in the Commonwealth State...

Sometimes, Bad Can Be Good – Let’s just tell it like it is; Carl Edwards was horrible Sunday at Martinsville. His Aflac Ford ran in the mid-20s for most of the TUMS Fast Relief 500, advancing to a ninth-place finish only after passing a number of cars that were either headed for the garage or pointed in the wrong direction. Part of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is keeping one’s head when all others are losing theirs. On that count -– and that count alone -– Edwards ran like a champion Sunday. His ability to make chicken salad out of… well, you know… keeps him in the championship points lead. In the end, that may have been enough.

Too Little, Too Late – Jimmie Johnson did almost everything he could at Martinsville, claiming a typically solid, runner-up finish behind Tony Stewart. Unfortunately for the Lowes Chevrolet team, they were able to trim only a few points off their massive championship deficit, leaving the Commonwealth a whopping 43 points behind Edwards with just three races left. Yes, he’s Jimmie Johnson. Yes, we’ve seen him do some remarkable things en route to a record five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. But no, a sixth title will not happen in 2011. Stick a fork in Jimmie, he’s done.

Lose Your Cool, Lose Your Championship – Of all the drivers likely to lose their heads at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth would have been last on the list. Unfortunately, the usually stoic Kenseth did severe damage to his championship hopes Sunday, playing tit-for-tat with Brian Vickers in a series of catastrophically shortsighted exchanges. “It’s disappointing,” admitted Kenseth afterward. “I obviously did a poor job today. We were really bad on used tires… and we kept getting the outside (of every restart). That’s such a disadvantage unless you have a real fast car, which we really didn’t. It was a struggle all day. Obviously, I didn’t make good decisions and we ended up in a bad spot.” Kenseth now trails Edwards by 36 points, and will have the next four months to ponder what might have been.

One Yellow Too Few -- There were 18 caution flags in Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500, and if you ask Brad Keselowski, there should have been 19. After running a smart, incident-free race, Keselowski was seventh with just two laps remaining. That finish would have left him three points behind point leader Carl Edwards with three races remaining. But alas, it was not to be. Contact on the final restart sent Keselowski spinning in Turn Two, and when NASCAR inexplicably declined to throw the yellow flag, Keso hurriedly re-fired his Miller Lite Dodge and limped home to a disappointing 17th place finish.

You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me, Loose Wheel -- Kyle Busch finished 27th Sunday after his M&Ms Toyota team compounded the damage done in a late-race crash by failing to secure his left-front tire on the ensuing pit stop. Busch ran among the leaders all day, and while he was probably not going to win Sunday, those five missing lug nuts ruined what easily could have been a Top-10 finish. Busch is now 57 points behind with three races remaining, and will need a series of miracles to win the 2011 championship.

“Dirty” Junior -– After riding passively in the back of the pack last week at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., did things his way Sunday. His Diet Mountain Dew-sponsored Chevrolet never led, but he was never far from the Top-10, either, thanks to a scrappy performance that included a handful of apologies for on-track aggression. His first-turn bump of Kurt Busch triggered the day’s first multi-car incident, and midway through the 500-lap grind, he radioed crew chief Steve Letarte, saying, “If we raced more short tracks, I might be considered a dirty driver. I’d have me a reputation.”

Calling Out Joey -– After coming out on the losing end of a fender-swapping session on lap 151, Joey Logano complained about Earnhardt’s tactics. “He just dumped me,” complained Logano, prompting veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli to call-out his driver. “I’m sick of this shit,” shouted Zipadelli. “Grow some balls and take care of it.”

“Boys, I’ve Had It” -- Brian Vickers will be job hunting soon, and his Sunday Drive will do little to aid the search. Vickers pushed, shoved and flat-out wrecked a smorgasbord of drivers Sunday, including Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth. He paid back an early bump from McMurray by planting J-Mac hard into the Turn Three wall a few laps later; a move McMurray called "a cheap shot." He also engaged in a lengthy slugfest with Kenseth that saw each driver push the other into a spin. Vickers’ final assault -- a full-speed body slam while entering pit road – ended the day for both drivers and cemented Vickers' place on Sunday's list of loose cannons. With Kenseth already multiple laps in arrears after repairing damage from the duo’s previous bout, Vickers' final takeout was unwise, unnecessary and vicious.

"I certainly understand that if you're unfairly wrecked… there's a chance that retaliation is going to happen,” said Johnson of Vickers afterward. “(But) after a fourth (or) fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking maybe you're the problem. Something is going on, you're having a bad day.”


  1. Anonymous5:38 PM

    maybe they should set up a boxing ring on front stretch after the race

  2. Brando in WA6:06 PM

    What the 'heck' was wrong with Brian Vickers yesterday? I like the guy, but sometimes he makes it hard to be a fan. It reminds me of when you jokingly punch a buddy in the arm, and he retaliates with a punch aimed to bruise. It bothered me to see such reckless abandon, with championship contenders being impacted. The Sheriff needs a reality check—that will happen when he is ride less next year.

  3. Anonymous5:03 AM

    Make that 2 yellows to few!!! For some Stupid reason; Nascar failed to throw a caution on the lap 98 Labonte spin which collected the innocent kahne. I mean, half the field nearly came to a stop getting around him. I can partially understand No-caution on Brad---couple lapse to go and he's the only victim.
    But 400 laps to go and another car involved---Inexplicable!!!! Kahne was robbed 5 laps--which is where he finished.