This weekend the final short track race of the season was at Virgina's Martinsville Speedway; a paperclip-shaped track that has the capability to make or break many team’s chances for victory and a championship.
With so many variables, every team knew going into the race that in an instant, you could be caught up in someone else’s problems.
Check out the winners and the losers for the Tums Fast Relief 500.
Well Denny Hamlin has said in the past that winning at the two tracks he considers his home tracks, Richmond and Martinsville, would be bigger than winning at Daytona or Indianapolis. Well, Hamlin pulled off the fall sweep of the Virginia races.
Whenever Hamlin comes to Martinsville he runs up front. He is the only non-Hendrick Motorsports driver to challenge them when they come to the track and Sunday was no different. Hamlin had a great car and his pit crew got the job done on pit road.
Hamlin had to hold off Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya on the restarts, but he pulled away and won his third race of the season.
Last spring, the battle for the win came down to Hamlin and Johnson, with Johnson bumping Hamlin out of the win.
On Sunday Hamlin got the payback without having to bump Johnson out of the way and ultimately won the race.
This week, in case you did not notice, my picks are some of the guys who don’t get the coverage very often and my second winner is David Reutimann. For the second week in a row, an ill Reutimann beat and banged his way to a solid finish.
He was still suffering from flu-like symptoms and hardly had a voice. Reutimann was running in the top 10 for most of the day but fell back when drivers with fresher tires were able to pass him late in the race.
Reutimann did take some damage battling for position and a cut tire had him hitting pit road. Reutimann had a strong run going until late contact set him back, and he ultimately finished 17th. It was not easy, nor was it pretty for this team when it all was said and done.
It is nice to see him running well every week. He is a talented driver and capable of winning races. With the equipment he is getting, I would not be surprised to see him steal a win down the stretch.
Sunday was the last race for Bobby Labonte to run the No. 96 car as the remaining races he will run in the No. 71. So what did Labonte do? He went out finished solidly in the top 15.
I was a little surprised by Labonte and his strong run on Sunday. It is not that he is not capable of his 13th-place finish. His team was able to make adjustments on the car and keep him in the top 10 for most of the race. This has been something that they have struggled with at times this season.
Labonte and his team put together some great pit stops and took advantage of the early cautions to work on his car. They had solid stops all day long and really worked traffic well.
It was surprising that he was replaced in the No. 96 in the first place, but you have to give him credit for not just riding around and battling for a strong finish on Sunday.
Sam Hornish Jr .
If you are Sam Hornish Jr., you want to leave Martinsville as soon as possible. From the beginning on Friday, Hornish was forced to a backup car after crashing during the first and only practice for this team.
On Sunday things did not get any better. He and teammate David Stremme got into each other, and Hornish suffered the most damage to his car. On lap 194, Hornish spun again, this time the damage was worse and was headed to the garage.
I keep saying it all year: He has the talent to run up front, but he cannot seem to avoid on-track issues and mechanical problems. Hornish has to be frustrated with the weekend he has had. He wrecked two cars and has nothing to show for it.
Hornish ended up finishing 36th.
It is bad enough to wreck, but when you wreck because of your teammate, it will make for an interesting conversation after the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The weekend started off very well for Earnhardt's team. They were very fast in practice and they were fast during qualifying. After the green flag dropped they were in the top 10 before lap 25. Earnhardt was struggling coming off the corner, but he was holding position in the top 10.
On lap 89 Earnhardt blew a tire and was forced to pit. He was able to stay on the lead lap, however. The team changed tires and fixed the damage caused by the flat. Earnhardt was the last car one lap down, but tire troubles again forced another caution.
On lap 104 he shot up the race track with another tire issue. On the caution for Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt earned one of his laps back. They were the only driver down at least one lap but not more than two. On the next caution they earned their second lap back.
The team though suffered another cut tire during a long green flag run, but this time they were unable to rebound. They finished 29th.
Earnhardt fans, it will get better, this goes in cycles.
Love him or hate him, Kurt Busch is passionate and he wants to win. In recent weeks we are seeing the effects on the track of a team in transition. With crew chief Pat Tryson leaving after the season, he has had limited availability with the team throughout the week. Cracks are showing on this team.
They qualified poorly at Martinsville this weekend, which even Busch admitted was not surprising. Starting deep in the pack meant their strategy had to change. They worked their way into the top 10, but an ill-handling race car and their pit strategy hurt them.
They were never able to rebound and had multiple issues on pit road. During one pit stop, he slid through his pit stop and when he backed up he ran over the tire changer's hose. It resulted in a very long and costly stop, topped with his tire changer throwing the air hose down in the pit stall as Busch pulled away in frustration.
Busch finished a disappointing 16th.
They can say that the lame duck crew chief is not hurting them in the Chase, but they are struggling to make the car better throughout the race. Because of this, they are unable to contend for wins in the Chase.
I do not buy the company line that Busch's performance is not impacted by the changes at Penske. Limiting Tryson access to the team during the most important stretch of the year has cost them a shot at a championship.
It makes all the work they did to make the Chase worthless.
I am not surprised by Jamie McMurray's run on Sunday. He has always run well at the Virginia track. In fact McMurray has run well at many short tracks. The difference is today he didn’t get caught up in someone else’s wreck.
McMurray ran in the top 10 for most of the day and was one of the few cars to be able to pass cars on Sunday. They gambled late for fresh tires and were able to take advantage and finished sixth. A great run for this team and huge confidence boost.
McMurray and his team ran a great race Sunday. They were able to run their own race and save their equipment for when they needed it most.
A solid run for this team and they earn their best finish of the year in sixth.
For the second time this year during a green-white checker, a car spins and sits at the start/finish line. NASCAR did not throw a caution in hopes that John Andretti would be able to restart his car before the field reached him on a short track.
I understand on the bigger intermediate tracks there is more time for that vehicle to restart, but on a short track there is no excuse for not calling a caution. I know they want them to race to the finish, but not when a car is sitting in the middle of the start/finish line trying to re-fire his car.
There should have been a caution when Andretti spun in the first place. I don’t care what it does to the finish of the race, if safety is important they should have slowed the cars down when Andretti spun.
The racing was pretty good on the track, but that is the result on a short track. The TV coverage was okay, it was not great. At times they were so focused on the single file racing up front they missed some of the racing mid pack.
Now they head to the final real wildcard race off the Chase, Talladega. Surviving Talladega will be important if you still want to be a factor for the championship.