Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IApril 8, 2013

Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville

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    Show of hands: Who missed NASCAR racing last week?

    You don't need to raise your hands, we know you did. Luckily, the Sprint Cup Series doesn't believe in two off-weekends in a row once the season starts, so Sunday saw the series get back in the groove at the famous Martinsville Speedway.

    There are few better places to watch a race than Martinsville, whether you're a fan of the historic venue, the rough-and-tumble racing or even simply the legendary Martinsville hot dogs. Whether fans were at the track or watching from home, the STP Gas Booster 500 certainly didn't disappoint, leaving many interesting storylines along the way.

    And as with any Cup race, there were plenty of big winners and losers when all was said and done. This list is limited to those who made it to the track on Sunday (it's a no-brainer that missing a race is a huge detriment to Denny Hamlin's championship hopes), but here are the drivers who had the best (and worst) day on Sunday.

Winner: Jimmie Johnson

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    Pop quiz time: Which of the following statistics is inaccurate about Johnson's win at Martinsville on Sunday?

    He became the first multiple-race winner of this Sprint Cup season, taking the points lead in the process;

    He scored his eighth Martinsville win, most among active drivers;

    He never ran lower than fifth place all day;

    Or that, with 346 laps led, he led the most laps he's ever led in a 500-lap event?

    Trick question! They're all true.

Loser: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Rick Hendrick's average finish at Martinsville on Sunday was eighth between his four cars. Sure, drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne finished first, third and fourth respectively.

    Earnhardt Jr., though? He came home 24th.

    The series' points leader coming into Sunday's race was involved in two accidents, including a spin in the race's final 50 laps, that dropped him off the lead lap. In the process, he fell to third in points, 12 behind new leader Johnson.

Winner: Clint Bowyer

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    Last year's spring Martinsville race was mired by a late accident that saw Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon spin in unison after a restart. When the same three drivers lined up for a late restart this year, history, thankfully, didn't repeat itself.

    Instead of another accident, all three drivers held their positions. This time, Bowyer came home second instead of 10th, elevating him to ninth in points—even more impressive, given that teammate Martin Truex Jr. spun him earlier in the race.

Loser: Tony Stewart

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    Things just aren't going too well for the three-time Cup champion to start this season.

    A 17th-place finish at Martinsville didn't enable Stewart to gain any ground in the standings, as he remains 22nd. That puts him behind such drivers as Aric Almirola (16th), Casey Mears (17th), and Denny Hamlin (18th)—even as Hamlin sat out this week's event.

Winner: Brad Keselowski

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    In case you need a refresher on what championship-caliber teams are made of, consider Brad Keselowski's late-race redemption after a questionable penalty on pit road.

    After a NASCAR official determined that the No. 2 car was outside of its pit box while attempting to perform a late pit stop, Keselowski fell out of the top 10. But he worked his way back up to ninth by the final restart and passed three more cars in the final eight laps to finish a respectable sixth.

Loser: Kurt Busch

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    Two accidents during Sunday's race ruined Kurt Busch's day, dropping him from a solid 19th-place start to a disappointing 37th-place finish. His initial problems, which included a wonky fuel pump, dropped Busch 30 laps off the pace, ruining any hopes of a good finish.

    Then, with 13 laps to go, the brakes on the No. 78 car failed spectacularly, forcing it into the wall with flames bursting from under the hood. About the only thing that went right for Busch all day was when he deployed the car's internal fire extinguishing system at the end of his race.

Winner: Mark Martin

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    Mark Martin deserves a ton of credit for finishing 10th in his lone start in relief of the injured Denny Hamlin.

    Despite qualifying 35th and struggling early, Martin took Hamlin's advice on driving the car from atop the pit box and gradually made his way up through the field. Not only that, he made a huge recovery after a botched pit stop that saw him leave before the left front wheel was on the car, leading to a penalty and another run from the back.

Loser: Bobby Labonte

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    A 21st-place finish may not seem like a bad run for Bobby Labonte and JTG Daugherty Racing. But it could've been so much more than that, as the No. 47 car had restarted 12th after the race's final caution.

    Unfortunately for Labonte, the outside lane of the track wasn't his friend, as it wasn't for many drivers all race. In the end, he dropped nine spots in eight laps due to the slow line and missed what would have been his best finish of the young season.

Winner: Danica Patrick

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    There weren't too many people with high hopes for Danica Patrick in her Martinsville debut. Not only did she initially qualify 32nd, but an engine change relegated her to the 43rd position at the start of the race.

    But things could have gone much worse. Patrick recovered from a Lap 15 spin to get back on the lead lap, remained patient all race long and even had a chance to score a top-10 finish coming into the race's final laps. Given the odds, a 12th-place finish is nothing to sneeze at.

Loser: Martin Truex Jr.

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    Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Clint Bowyer finished second, challenging for the spring Martinsville win for the second year in a row. Fellow teammate Brian Vickers spent much of the day up front, recovered from a late-race spin and finished 11th. Good day for the team, right?

    Not entirely. Martin Truex Jr. totaled the front end of his car in a Lap-181 wreck with Bowyer and came home 40th, dropping him to 25th in points. It's a bit early to tell, but a return to the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year may be out of the cards for the No. 56 team.

    For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.

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