Martinsville Madness: Harvick Moves Earnhardt Jr. out of the Way for a Win

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IApril 3, 2011

MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03:  The #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, driven by Martin Truex Jr., catches fire after an incident with Kasey Kahne, driver of the #4 Red Bull Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2011 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

It looked like the good ole days at Bristol with cars crashing and spinning, but it was the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville that saw the cars kiss the curbing as they battled for a win.

Cautions were breeding even more cautions as the race progressed until finally a red flag was brought out on lap 223 after the throttle stuck on the No. 56 of Martin Truex Jr.

Truex was helpless as he drilled Kasey Kahne in turn three. 

Kahne knew his throttle must have been wide open and said, "He drove me through the wall."

Truex came out of the care center in good shape. He apologized for taking out Kahne, but had no control over the incident and when asked by a pit reporter what he was thinking when he knew he was crashing, his response was, "Oh man, this is going to hurt."

The driver of the No. 56 praised the safer barriers and added, "Ten years ago I wouldn't be standing here."

Kahne was unhurt in the incident, but the crash was spectacular.

The red flag conditions lasted 25 minutes and cautions continued along with the many, many times the cars swapped paint with one another. Tire failures were evident as the beads were overheated by the hard braking.

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Jamie McMurray started on the pole but relinquished the lead to all the usual suspects. Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were the hot picks to win at Martinsville.

On lap 392 Kyle Busch passed leader Jeff Gordon. As Busch continued to pace the field, Gordon who was running in the top five commented on how hard the driver of the M&Ms No. 18 was on his equipment when he stated, "That 18 is just driving so hard, I don't know how he gets away with it."

Another caution flew and with 33 laps to go and the lead cars headed to the pits.  Kyle Busch led Jimmie Johnson back out of the pits, but Johnson was assessed a speeding penalty causing him to restart at the back of the cars in the lead lap.

With 24 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was right on the bumper of the leader Kyle Busch. The driver of the Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet bumped Busch and made a pass for the lead with 20 laps to go.

Earnhardt Jr. has not won a race in the last 98 starts, so the guidance of Steve Letarte, his crew chief and experience with Jeff Gordon seemed to be working.

Kevin Harvick battled the No.18 as the No. 88 lapped Carl Edwards. Harvick once again was looking to be the spoiler as he closed on Earnhardt Jr.

With four laps to go, Harvick got Jr. loose and made the pass for the lead. On the final lap it was Harvick taking the checkered flag with Earnhardt Jr. second and Kyle Busch third.

Harvick said from Victory Lane, "I didn't think we had the car to do that. I hate to be the bad guy here with Dale Jr., but we're in it to win it."

Earnhardt Jr. said post-race, "The 29 was coming and there wasn't much I could do. We were a top-10 car, not a winning car. Steve did an awesome job with pit strategy."

It was obvious Junior was happy to be in the mix at the end, but he really made it clear how badly he wanted the prized grandfather clock trophy. He said, "I love this place."

Kyle Busch took over the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead. Harvick has now won in all three of the top series of NASCAR at Martinsville.