By AMANDA VINCENT
Prior to the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway race weekend for the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup series that culminated in Sunday’s STP 500 Sprint Cup race, Kyle Busch had yet to win as a driver at NASCAR’s shortest track. When he broke through to victory lane after Saturday’s truck race, Busch mentioned that he had Martinsville grandfather clocks (the track’s race trophy) as a team owner but none as a driver. Busch went from winless at Martinsville to weekend sweep with another Martinsville win in Sunday’s Cup race to claim his second clock as a driver and put an exclamation point on a weekend sweep.
“I can’t say enough about this whole JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) team on this side (Sprint Cup),” Busch said. “This M&Ms Camry was awesome in practice yesterday. We had a really good car through practice and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) made some really good adjustments overnight to keep ups where we need to be in order to run up front all day, led a lot of laps, probably led the most laps, there, and to win here in Martinsville is pretty cool. Finally get to take a clock home.”
Sunday’s STP 500 winning performance camem in dominating fashion, as Busch led 352 of the 500 laps that made up the race. The win also was Busch’s first of the season, putting him in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and in position to defend as Sprint Cup champion.
A.J. Allmendinger finished second after getting by Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, on a restart with 11 laps to go. Kenseth lost additional positions, winding up 15th at the checkered flag.
“Well, I was hoping for one more spot for a culmination,” Allmendinger said. “But, I passed Jimmie Johnson, like, five times at Martinsville; that’s pretty cool. I can’t thank everybody on this team enough, especially Tad and Jodi Geschickter (car owners). They put a lot of effort into this team. We weren’t where we wanted to be about six months ago. We brought in so many people who stepped up to embrace their new roles. I can’t thank all our sponsors enough.”
Kyle Larson finished third and Austin Dillon was fourth. Brad Keselowski finished fifth after an early-race pit road speeding penalty.
Denny Hamlin, another JGR driver, was assessed a speeding penalty during the same caution as Keselowski, but unlike Keselowski, Hamlin’s race went from bad to worse when he wheel-hopped and wound up hitting the wall, retiring from the race.
“It’s my first time ever doing it here, so it’s a little embarrassing, but I mean, we were the fastest car those last 30 laps and we got back to the top-five and I was making up a lot of my speed on entry,” Hamlin said. “As the tires wear, the rears get hotter, less grip, you can’t brake at the same amount, and I just — it was really out of the blue. I didn’t ever have a hint of it up until that moment, so a bit of a rookie move on my part. Been around here too much to do something like that, but learning for the fall and I’m really encouraged about how good our car came up through the pack, and I really thought we had a car that could win.”
Joey Logano started on the pole and led the first 21 laps before losing the top spot to Paul Menard. Busch took his first lead on lap 32. Logano eventually fell outside the top-10. By lap 70, he was outside the top-20. By lap 75, he was a lap down. Logano got back on the lead lap during a lap 137 yellow flag.
“It was frustrating,” Logano said. “You want to go out there and win, for sure, and we just missed it. The first run was just absolutely awful to go down a lap from the lead, so we fought to get our car better, which we did, and then we overadjusted and came back and overadjusted on the way back, and then we had a kpit road penalty.”
Kevin Harvick also led laps in the first half of the race, first taking the lead from Busch on lap 101 and leading five laps before Busch retook the top spot. Harvick led again, when he, again, took the lead from Busch on lap 156. His second time up front, Harvick stayed up front until Kenseth beat him off pit road during a caution that came on lap 221.
Busch retook the lead on lap 327.
Kenseth took the lead on pit road multiple times during cautions in the middle portion of the race, but soon after the race restarted, Busch would retake the lead and drive away.
Harvick was a mainstay inside the top-five throughout much of the race, especially in the second half. He restarted fourth after a caution just inside the 50-laps-to-go mark, but after restarting in the outside line, he got shuffled back several positions. He then stayed out during the final yellow flag and restarted sixth, but just as before, he started on the outside and was shuffled outside the top-10, ultimately finishing 17th.
Among drivers finishing ahead of Harvick was Dale Earnhardt Jr., despite Earnhardt being two laps down for a significant portion of the race. Earnhardt brought out the first of the eight cautions that littered the race when he suffered from a tire issue on lap five. He got back on the lead lap during a lap 312 yellow flag. He was 14th at the finish after pitting during the final caution.
Carl Edwards finished sixth. Seventh through 10th were Brian Vickers, Menard, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman.
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