Tempers were flaring, caution flags were flying and keeping a clean car was nearly impossible for every Sprint Cup driver during the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.
Kurt Busch experienced all of that. But when the brake dust finally settled at the short track, the Outlaw emerged as the sixth different driver to take the checkered flag through as many races, as NASCAR and NASCAR Stats point out:
This was also the first win for Busch since he drove for Penske Racing back in 2011:
The win essentially solidifies a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for Busch with 20 races remaining before the NASCAR equivalent of the postseason begins. It also gives Stewart-Haas Racing its second of the season after Kevin Harvick's win in Phoenix during the second race of the year.
Busch's victory is even more impressive considering he appeared to be out of contention early after being involved in a wreck with former Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, but he wasn't worried about that at the end of the race.
After taking the lead with 11 laps remaining, Busch was able to hold off Jimmie Johnson on the home stretch. Ironically enough, it came just a week after his brother, Kyle, won by passing Johnson late in the race at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch spoke about trying to keep Johnson at bay on the last few laps, according to Marty Smith of ESPN:
.@KurtBusch: I didn't know if we'd be able to hold off JJ, he's the king here. Him & 24. If can't beat em, join em (in HMS equip).— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) March 30, 2014
It was yet another dominant day for six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who wound up finishing second at Martinsville. After nearly cruising to an easy victory at Auto Club Speedway the weekend prior, the No. 48 machine cut a tire and finished 24th.
The race was a landmark one for the Hendrick Motorsports driver:
Lap 267: Jimmie Johnson just eclipsed the 100 laps led mark in this race, bringing his career Martinsville total to 2,550. #NASCAR— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) March 30, 2014
After two races where Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished outside the top 10, the No. 88 car claimed its fourth top-five victory of the season with a third-place result at Martinsville.
Here is a look at the top 10 finishers from the race. The full leaderboard for the STP 500 can be viewed at NASCAR.com.
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||25|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||227|
Before the race ever got underway, NASCAR decided that a competition caution would be waved after 40 laps to give drivers a chance to make any necessary repairs to the cars. Following the rain Saturday that postponed the truck race until Sunday night, the conditions were unknown as the Sprint Cup drivers took to the track.
NASCAR's official Twitter account clarified the reasoning behind the scheduled caution:
Competition caution is out to give teams the chance to check tire wear after yesterday's rain. #NASCAR— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 30, 2014
While it was early on in the race, the caution flag gave way to one of the more intriguing scenarios of the entire race. Coming out of pit lane, Keselowski ran into the rear quarter panel of Kasey Kahne, who was entering the pits.
Just after the two made contact with one another, Keselowski spoke about the damage to his No. 2 car over his radio, per NASCAR on Fox:
The contact with Kahne was just the start of the wreck, though, as Kurt Busch tried to cut to the outside of the two drivers and plowed into the back of Keselowski, shoving him further into Kahne's car.
After making a visit to the pits, Keselowski spoke about the damage his car sustained and who was at fault during the Fox broadcast (via Nate Ryan of USA Today):
Brad Keselowski puts blame on former Penske teammate Kurt Busch for his damage. "Kurt accelerated and drove right through us." #nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) March 30, 2014
Brad Keselowski on Kurt Busch in Fox interview: "I’m about tired of his recklessness. Thanks, Kurt. Appreciate it, bud." #nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) March 30, 2014
Keselowski would fall 31 laps behind following the wreck, but still returned to the race to gain points. NASCAR News provides a look at the No. 2 machine following the repairs, sans the front end of the car:
Brad Keselowski returns to track 31 laps down to gain points looking fresh. pic.twitter.com/41KCBSWZY2— NASCAR News (@SprintCupNews) March 30, 2014
That wasn't where the skirmish ended between the two cars. Upon returning to the track, Keselowski sought out Busch and brake-checked the No. 41 car.
Busch made contact with Keselowski before the No. 2 car got beside him and brushed up against him yet again. Damage to both cars at that point was critical, but the relationship between the two former teammates was even more severed.
Following the incident, Busch didn't mince words through his radio, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Kurt Busch after contact with Brad: "What a good kid."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 30, 2014
Kurt Busch says of Brad: "Guess we get to get in a fight afterwards, because I'm going to go f--- that dude's f----ing face up!" #NASCAR— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 30, 2014
While Keselowski was never able to recover from the early wreck, Busch would get back near the head of the pack, taking over second place with 73 laps to go and contending for the lead with just a few laps remaining before finishing in Victory Lane.
The early wreck was certainly the most talked about, but it wasn't the only accident involving notable drivers. Shortly after the run-in between Keselowski and Busch turned violent, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were involved in a wreck that sent McMurray flying into the wall and into the garage.
McMurray was leading Earnhardt as the two went into a turn. Earnhardt tried to take the low line to pass McMurray, but the No. 1 car came back down and No. 88 clipped it.
Marty Snider of Turner Sports and NASCAR on Fox provided commentary from both drivers involved in the accident:
Junior says "I don't think I did anything wrong. He knew I was there, I just rolling in there."— Marty Snider (@heymartysnider) March 30, 2014
With the Sprint Cup series now heading to Texas Motor Speedway, the drivers return to the wide-open confines of the 1.5-mile track. But after the wrecks and rivalries that Martinsville yielded, the extra mile might not be enough to keep tempers in check.
After six drivers have claimed victories through the first six races, can another driver take home the checkered flag and continue to make history? With fan favorites like Johnson and Jeff Gordon looking to finally get the first elusive win under their belts in 2014, anything is possible at Texas.
The race isn't set to run until Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, but there will be plenty of storylines leading up to it as the action on and off the track is sure to heat up.
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