Harvick wins at Martinsville
Amanda Vincent is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or wilsoncountynews.com.
Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson may have been favorites to win Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, but it was Kevin Harvick who was celebrating in victory lane for the second-consecutive Sunday. It was the first Sprint Cup win at Martinsville for Harvick and the first for Richard Childress Racing at the track since Dale Earnhardt won there in 1995.
In the closing laps, Harvick had to fight off Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led a handful of laps near the end of the race, until Harvick got by him with four laps to go. Earnhardt Jr., who last visited a Sprint Cup victory lane some 97 races to go, finished second.
“I had a lot of fun racing with Dale Jr.,” Harvick said in victory lane.
Hamlin and Johnson did lead several laps early, but the 11th and final caution of the day that came out with 35 laps to go threw a monkey wrench into the strategies of several race teams, Johnson’s and Hamlin’s included. That 11th caution came out after the field had started cycling through green flag pit stops. Hamlin was among those who pitted prior to the caution coming out.
Johnson, meanwhile, was able to make his pit stop during the caution, but he got slapped with a pit road speeding penalty and, therefore, had to restart in the back. As a result of their pit misfortunes, both finished outside the top-10, Johnson in 11th and Hamlin in 12th.
Drivers having the fortune of pitting under caution and restarting in the front of the field included Kyle Busch, who restarted in the lead; Harvick, who restarted alongside in the second spot; and Earnhardt Jr., who restarted third.
Earnhardt Jr. quickly got by Harvick for the second spot, as drivers in the third position (inside, second row) seemed to have an advantage on the second-place car on restarts all day, since they had the benefit of restarting in the inside line (the preferred line).
After a few laps, Earnhardt Jr. got by Busch for the lead. Busch got shuffled back another position by Harvick, who took the second spot from him with 13 laps to go. Harvick then reeled Earnhardt Jr. in and got by him with four laps to go and stayed up front the rest of the way.
“The No. 29, he was coming, and there wasn’t much I could do,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
Despite leading the most laps, 151 of 500, Busch was relegated to a third-place finish. Juan Montoya finished fourth, and Jeff Gordon, who came into the weekend leading all active drivers in wins at Martinsville with seven, rounded out the top-five.
The inside line was so preferred that an unprecedented three drivers were penalized throughout the race for changing their lanes before crossing the start/finish line on starts and restarts. Each time, a driver in the outside lane got in a hurry to get to the bottom and made the lane change a little too soon. Matt Kenseth did so on the initial green flag to start the race. Mark Martin and Tony Stewart were also penalized for the same mistake on a couple of restarts. Kenseth and Martin were able to recover from the snafu, at least enough to salvage top-10 finishes, as Kenseth finished sixth and Martin was 10th.
“I thought we ran pretty good,” Kenseth said. “It was probably one of our best runs at Martinsville. It was just circumstances. I guess it was my mistake early, and it was just circumstances as to why we didn’t run any better.”
Drivers had plenty of opportunities to make the same mistake as the aforementioned three drivers, as Sunday’s race produced 11 cautions, many of them a result of tire issues. One exception, though, was the sixth caution of the day that came out on lap 221 when Martin Truex Jr.’s throttle got stuck, sending him into the wall at full speed, taking Kasey Kahne with him. Both drivers involved emerged uninjured.