Each week, I’ll provide some quick postrace analysis with five thoughts from the race. This week: Martinsville Speedway.
Brad isn’t so bad
Martinsville is one of the tracks where Brad Keselowski gets booed the most in pre-race introductions. The reasons why people don’t like Keselowski — he’s brash and runs his mouth at times, races some popular drivers too hard and is unapologetic and unflinching when it comes to on-track incidents — all come to the forefront here.
So it was interesting after the race when Keselowski decided to dash into the stands to greet a group of fans — some his, but not all — who had stuck around to watch victory lane on the frontstretch.
“This might not be the track where I get the loudest cheers,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s OK — that’s part of what makes this sport go around.
“I just felt really good about it and saw a couple people I knew up in the grandstands. … I just thought it was worth saying hey.”
You may not want to hear this, but that’s more of who the real Keselowski is than what you see on the racetrack.
Keselowski is the type of guy who uses reporters’ first names in news conferences when answering questions. Not because he’s trying to kiss media butts, but because he’s respectful and personable.
He is fan-friendly (did you see his Facebook Live videos in the first couple weeks of this season, when he surprised people in the campgrounds?), intelligent and a good ambassador for NASCAR, his sponsor and his team.
And yet, so many fans hate his guts! It’s honestly a shame for NASCAR as a whole, because Keselowski has the type of personality that could make him a really popular driver. The problem for fans is since he’s opinionated and never backs down from a fight, they’ve already determined he’s a villain.
There’s probably nothing that can be done to reverse that for now — maybe people will come around later in his career — but fans who don’t think there are interesting drivers with personality in the series are overlooking Keselowski.
Stage racing continues to produce unexpected results. For example: Who would have imagined it would prompt a lapped car to bump the race leader out of the way?
That’s exactly what Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did at the end of Stage 2, sending Kyle Busch up the track and costing Busch a potentially valuable bonus point for the playoffs this fall.
Stenhouse said he wouldn’t normally make such a move because “You respect the leader.” But knowing a caution was about to come, he said, made him go for it.
“It’s as hard as I could drive,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of. I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If (Busch) laps (Austin Dillon, who was the next car in line) and we’re stuck a lap down, it could ruin our race. So I drove as hard as I could, and it paid off for us.”
Stenhouse ended up with a 10th-place finish — his second top-10 in three weeks. He said he planned to nudge Busch just enough to get the lap back, but “didn’t mean to give up the win for him in that stage.”
Busch wasn’t impressed by the move. He said Stenhouse should expect payback, particularly since — in his mind — the bump wasn’t necessary. The defending race winner explained he intended to give Stenhouse a lane and allow the driver to get his lap back at the line; instead, Stenhouse “just drove through me,” Busch said.
“I was trying to be a nice guy,” Busch said. “But nice guys don’t finish first.”
Crew chiefs getting tire-d
Why in the world did Jamie McMurray stay out when it seemed obvious his severe tire rub was going to result in a flat — one that ended up wrecking his car?
Well, because the team — like many others that have gotten burned in similar ways before — thought the tire rub might go away.
Another part of the reason not to pit, McMurray said, was “If we pit and we lose three laps, you are never going to make those up here.”
The problem is, that’s not really true. Drivers have come back from incidents that put them multiple laps down at Martinsville, because there are so many cautions that wavearounds and even free passes are likely here.
This honestly isn’t to pick on crew chief Matt McCall or McMurray’s team, because this seems to happen every few weeks: A driver gets damage from another car or from brushing the wall, resulting in a tire rub; then, either because the team thinks it will go away or because it’s praying for a longshot caution, the driver stays out and ends up wrecked when the tire blows.
But these teams are really out-thinking themselves if that’s the case. Points for finishing 25th and laps down are still way better than last-place points after a wreck.
If it’s a minor tire rub like Kyle Busch had? Yes, that can go away. But when there’s THAT much smoke? I’m not an expert, but PIT, damn it! The tire isn’t going to heal itself.
Cash me ousside
Holy crap, did you see that outside lane working at Martinsville? They’ve been racing here for 70 YEARS, and the outside lane has never been a viable option (as far as I know) until Sunday. The new tire Goodyear brought laid rubber in the top lane, and Busch seemed to pioneer a new strategy of making the outside work.
Team radios were abuzz with spotters and crew chiefs telling their drivers about Busch’s line, and others seemed to try the same thing with some degree of success. Keselowski even made the outside lane work on a late restart.
Of course, it’s not like drivers have never made passes on the outside (Tony Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson that way for a win in 2011) — but it’s just never been the preferred way around.
And it wasn’t necessarily better than the bottom on Sunday, but at least it became an option. There was only one time all day where I noticed a driver hit the brakes to try and get the low line on a restart after pit stops, so that was an improvement.
It’s worth wondering whether setups can be geared to run that way in the fall, when the playoff race will have much more importance.
Hey, how about JTG-Daugherty Racing?
Sixth-place AJ Allmendinger had his best finish on a non-plate oval track since, well, this race last year (he finished second that day).
And second-year driver Chris Buescher, in his first season at JTG, finished 11th — his best result since a fifth-place run last fall at Bristol.
“We needed a good run,” Allmendinger said. “I actually felt like a race car driver today. That was a lot of fun.”
Maybe all is not lost for Allmendinger, who had a miserable start to the season after a 35-point penalty and three-race suspension for crew chief Randall Burnett, who returned Sunday. He moved up four spots to 26th in points (Buescher is 27th) and there are still two road courses ahead for Allmendinger.