Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick Highlight 5 Good, 5 Bad at Martinsville

Ben MontedonicoContributor IIIApril 2, 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick Highlight 5 Good, 5 Bad at Martinsville

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    The boys of NASCAR took to the half-mile paperclip that is Martinsville Speedway this weekend with a result that resembled an April Fools joke more than an actual Sprint Cup race.

    Ryan Newman was no fool as he emerged from the chaos as the winner of Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500, with AJ Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. close behind.

    But cruel tricks were played on some of NASCAR's best as one of the sport's powerhouse teams had a milestone victory snatched from its grasp while one of the circuit's top drivers played a joke of his own.

    Who was good and who was bad Sunday at Martinsville? We've got you covered!

Good: Ryan Newman

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    Rocketman may have just stolen Kevin Harvick's old nickname.

    This week's "Mr. Where Did He Come From?" started the day in the Top 5 but fell to the back of the pack after an early pit road speeding penalty.

    It took Newman a good part of the afternoon to claw his way back into the Top 10, but after a late caution Newman lined up in fifth for the first of two green-white-checkered attempts.

    On the restart, chaos ensued in front of him as Clint Bowyer took leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson three-wide going into the first turn, taking out all three cars.

    Newman slipped through, taking the lead and never looking back en route to his first win of 2012.

Bad: Hendrick Motorsports

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    It was set up perfectly.

    Hendrick Motorsports was all set to earn its 200th win at the sight where the team earned its first victory, and at the track near where the team owner lost his son in a tragic plane crash almost eight years ago.

    Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were lined up 1-2-3—and then everything went wrong.

    A caution came out with four laps to go, bringing everybody down pit road except Gordon and Johnson, who lined up side-by-side on the ensuing restart.

    Restarting in third, Clint Bowyer made the three-wide move to Gordon's inside heading into Turn 1, taking out both Gordon and Johnson and snatching away Hendrick's shot at his historic 200th Cup victory.

    To make matters worse, Kasey Kahne suffered more misfortune, blowing an engine and finishing 38th.

Good: AJ Allmendinger

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    Finally!

    After five races in his new ride at Penske Racing, AJ Allmendinger had finished no better than 15th and had yet to show he was even capable of being competitive.

    Finally, he did just that on Sunday.

    Allmendinger worked his way up from the 27th starting spot into a position for a solid Top 10 finish. But after a late caution, Allmendinger found a chance to get a little bit more.

    After Gordon and Johnson crashed during the first green-white-checkered attempt, Allmendinger found himself in position to go after his first win in any of NASCAR's top divisions.

    He came up just short, finishing a career-best second. But Allmendinger's run on Sunday proves that he may just have what it takes to be a contender in 2012.

Bad: The Busch Brothers

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    Misery loves company, especially in the Busch family.

    Just three weeks after the sibling pair made this portion of the list at Las Vegas, Kurt and Kyle return again after a brutal outing at Martinsville.

    Kurt's day was doomed from the beginning. The elder Busch started 40th and fell off the lead lap early before blowing the first of several right-front tires. Kurt would go on to finish 33rd, 18 laps off the pace.

    Kyle's day was done with one hit. The younger Busch found himself in the wall after just 98 laps when his track bar evidently broke. Kyle would go on to finish 36th, 80 laps down.

    Though the brothers had a brutal day, kudos to the both of them for gutting it out and finishing the race.

Good: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. may just be for real, folks.

    The lone bright spot for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday, Junior finished third after running in the Top 5 almost all day.

    It was Junior's second consecutive third-place finish and he now sits second in the standings, just six points behind leader Greg Biffle.

    In fact, if not for a speeding penalty late in the going at Bristol that cost Junior a possible Top 5, Driver No. 88 may very well be leading the standings.

    With a solid intermediate program under him and momentum behind him, watch out for Junior two weeks from now at Texas, the sight of his very first Sprint Cup win.

Bad: Kevin Harvick

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    You're the defending champion of this race, and you went out and led 248 of the 250 laps in the Camping World Truck event the day before.

    What do you do for an encore?

    If you're Kevin Harvick, you finish 19th, two laps down.

    Harvick never could find the handle on his No. 29 car Sunday at Martinsville, dropping off the lead lap midway through the race after leading early and eventually losing a second lap to the leaders.

    It was a disappointing run for a driver expected to be one of the favorites Sunday at Martinsville.

Good: Aric Almirola

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    Aric Almirola did not make many friends at Martinsville, but making friends was not part of the agenda on Sunday.

    The Cuban Missile roughed up Dale Earnhardt Jr. early in the going and had a run-in with AJ Allmendinger a little later on.

    But in spite of his dust-ups, Almirola never stopped trucking. He ran at the back half of the Top 10 for most of the afternoon, putting himself in position for a solid finish.

    Almirola survived the late-race chaos en route to an eighth-place finish, his first Top 10 of the season.

Bad: Clint Bowyer

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    Clint Bowyer tried to be the hero, but wound up the goat.

    On a late restart, Bowyer took off from the third position and tried a three-wide move to the inside of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

    As has been well-documented, the end result was not pretty.

    Bowyer would go on to finish a respectable 10th, but that did not stop him from becoming the backup punching bag for NASCAR fans, second only to the man in our final slide.

    His wreck, coupled with that awful karaoke commercial he stars in also makes him the butt of this rather humorous joke.

Good: Carl Edwards' April Fools Prank

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    You're never too old for an April Fools joke.

    Especially not if you're Carl Edwards, who has been known to play a few tricks even when the date is not April 1. But the prank Edwards pulled mid-race on crew chief Bob Osborne may have been his best one yet.

    Around Lap 350, Edwards came over his radio frantically claiming his transmission broke. Stunned, Osborne asked Edwards to repeat what he just said.

    To which Edwards replied, "I was just giving you an April Fools joke, buddy."

    Edwards probably about gave poor Osborne a heart attack, but for those of us sitting at home watching what at that time was an uneventful race, it was worth a good laugh.

Bad: David Reutimann

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    David Reutimann finished one position ahead of Kyle Busch and three spots up on Pole sitter Kasey Kahne, but it was he who had the worst day out of everybody in Martinsville.

    Reutimann struggled all day as he tried to keep his No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing car inside the Top 35 in owner points—to the point where he still tried to make it to the flag when the car would no longer run, but came up just short.

    So short, in fact, that his car stalled on the track with three laps to go, bringing out a caution that changed the whole complexion of the race and resulted in the chaos that took out Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

    Reutimann was remorseful after the race, saying he was just trying to do everything he could to keep his car in the Top 35.

    But no explanation was good enough, and Reutimann has become public enemy No. 1 in NASCAR circles. At least, for the time being.