I always look forward to short track racing and the disappointment of Sunday’s rain delay at Martinsville Speedway only heightened my anticipation. Monday we finally got the race underway and my patience was finally rewarded.
It was everything I had hoped for and more.
After making his way to the lead on lap 230 of the race, Denny Hamlin battled back and forth for the lead with Jeff Burton.
Things really got interesting on lap 492 when Jeff Burton had a flat tire and hit the wall, bringing out the caution. To everyone’s surprise, leader Denny Hamlin headed to pit road for a set of new tires. Only second place driver, Kyle Busch, followed.
Everyone assumed that Hamlin had just handed over the win to Jeff Gordon.
Everyone was wrong.
With the finish line in sight, Gordon’s dream of a win went up in smoke when Kyle Busch spun out, hit the wall and brought out the final caution. This set the stage for a green-white-checkered finish.
It was just the break Hamlin needed and the last thing Gordon wanted to see.
Hamlin pushed by Ryan Newman and then slid under Gordon and Kenseth, who were immersed in their own personal battle, to take the checkered flag.
"This is probably the most gratifying win I've had, simply because we came through adversity so many times, whether it be because of pit road or that dash at the end," Hamlin said.
"We just flat out drove through them at the end and got the win. I'm not sure we've gotten a win like this before."
Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five finishers.
Martinsville is a perfect example of why I love NASCAR. It was a nail-biting, edge of your seat thriller and left me wanting more.
Movers and Shakers:
Several drivers had impressive runs today and gained spots in the points standings.
Jeff Gordon moved up four positions due to his third place finish and now sits seventh in points. If not for his scuffle with Matt Kenseth during the last laps of the race, he could very easily have brought home the win.
Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman also moved up four positions.
Richard Childress Racing continues to make its presence felt. Clint Bowyer gained 3 spots and Jeff Burton gained two. They are now fourth and fifth in the points, respectively.
One to Watch -Greg Biffle is quietly staking his claim in the points standings. In six races, his lowest finish has been tenth.
He’s Back -And let’s not forget Jimmie Johnson. Although this is the first time since 2005 that he failed to lead a single lap at Martinsville, his ninth place finish moves the reigning Champ to number one in the points.
Snoozers and Losers:
Biggest Loser - Kyle Busch, who began the race with an ill-handling car but by lap 492, Busch had made his way up to second place when Jeff Burton hit the wall and brought out the caution flag. Busch, along with Denny Hamlin, decided to pit and get four tires. He restarted the race in tenth position.
While Hamlin’s gamble paid off, Busch was not so lucky. After some three-wide racing with Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose, Busch got sideways and finished the race in 22nd position. He lost six spots in the standings and now sits in 16th place.
Asleep at the Wheel -Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in 15th place and fell from eighth to tenth in the points after problems on pit road, questionable pit call decisions and a mediocre car. Although this team has shown a marked improvement over last season, they can be their own worst enemy at times.
Heroes and Villains:
My Hero -The hero of the race has to be Crew Chief Mike Ford. He made the gutsy call to pit and take four tires while driver Denny Hamlin was leading the race with only eight laps to go.
Before the words, “That was a crazy thing to do,” were out of my mouth, another caution set the stage for a green-white checkered restart. I watched in amazement (while I ate my words) as Hamlin darted through the field on fresh tires and raced his way into Victory Lane.
NASCAR’S Biggest Foe -The villain of the race award goes to Mother Nature who rained out the scheduled Sunday race. My sympathy goes out to the drenched fans that were unable to change travel plans and stick around for what proved to be short track racing at its best.