The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race

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.

Stages Right

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.

DraftKings Fantasy NASCAR picks for Martinsville Speedway

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last week’s results: Played the $4 entry Pedal to the Medal with $50,000 payout and finished around 40,100th out of 88,200. Won $0.

Season results: $5 wagered, $0 won in five contests.

This week’s contest: $3 Casual Slingshot game with a $15,000 total payout.

Martinsville picks:

Kyle Busch ($10,300). According to Joe Schroder of, Busch was fastest in 10-lap, 15-lap and 20-lap averages during final practice. Official NASCAR data was not immediately available this week, so I’m leaning heavily on that tweet I linked.

Kyle Larson ($10,000). Larson has said he stinks here, but he was awarded the pole and has a good chance to lead a lot of laps early. I figure there are so many laps up for grabs here (500!) that it’s important to try and guess lap leaders this week.

Denny Hamlin ($9,700). I’m not going to pass up on the guy who might be the best Martinsville driver.

Clint Bowyer ($8,000). He’s been pretty solid at Martinsville over the years, and he seems to have his confidence and mojo back. With a good car underneath him, I could see a potentially good day. I had to decide between Bowyer and AJ Allmendinger, so that was a tough one (you might want to go the opposite of me).

Danica Patrick ($6,100). I needed a couple cheap drivers to make this work, and she’s actually had some of her best runs here. I’ll need another one Sunday if my lineup has any chance of success.

Cole Whitt ($5,100). Whew, this is scary. But I’m picking him over guys like Chris Buescher and Landon Cassill because he was downright decent in practice. He was 15th in 10-lap averages for final practice (again according to Joe Schroeder). So we’ll see.

Unused salary cap money: $800

One hat for a good cause

So as you know, Dale Earnhardt Jr. started this whole hat thing — which, again, is not real! I don’t have hats! — with a couple tweets during Phoenix weekend. And while I still don’t have plans to sell any hats, Dale came up with a great idea recently that I hope will benefit a worthy charity.

After a fan named @thetechdork made a hat and overnighted it to JR Motorsports, Dale reached out and suggested we auction it off for charity. The bidding started at $200 (if you can believe that!) and will last for a week; proceeds go to the Dale Jr. Foundation, which will then donate to Beads of Courage — my preferred charity.

I’m SO happy Dale came up with a great way to use the hat prank craziness for a good cause. My wife, Sarah, is training to be a Child Life Specialist at a children’s hospital and has told me about how kids react to getting their Beads of Courage.

If a child is getting a bead, they’re likely battling a very serious and chronic illness. For every needle poke, surgery or overnight stay in the hospital — just to name a few — the child receives a bead. I’ve been carrying some tire-shaped beads around with me since the Daytona 500 so a child will be able to say their bead was at the racetrack.

Anyway, I hope the winning hat bidder knows they’re helping a worthy charity that makes a difference in the lives of children who are going through hard times.

Here’s the link to the charity auction if you want to check it out.

Thanks again to Dale for coming up with this idea (and by the way, the small print on the auction site says Dale “will autograph the hat if the highest bidder would like for it to be,” so there’s that!).

Below are two videos: The Periscope where we announced the plan and a video where you can learn more about what Beads of Courage does.

I have a new logo and site branding!

Hey everyone!

Well, this is finally starting to look like more of a real website. I’ve been wanting to get a consistent logo and matching site branding for awhile now, and today is the first day of the new look.

Originally, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have a logo because I didn’t know if I would keep that name. But after the Las Vegas fight video, I figured the name was probably going to stick around for awhile.

So I decided to work with Brendan Droppo — who designs Lowe’s paint schemes for the No. 48 car and some Nationwide paint schemes for the No. 88 car — to create the branding. Brendan’s work looks so clean on the race cars, and I thought he would do a good job with my logo (and he did!).

If you want to check out more of Brendan’s work, his website is, and he’s also on Twitter at @brendandroppo.

I also want to thank Kyle Ellis, who sent me a (really good) unsolicited logo a few weeks ago when I didn’t have anything. I ended up buying it and using it for awhile, so I appreciate that. You can find him on Twitter at @Ky_Rocket.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new look of the site!

Kyle Larson actually cares about frequent flyer miles

NASCAR drivers are just normal people with really cool jobs, but their talents and success at their jobs have resulted in lifestyles many fans can’t relate to.

The best drivers typically live in mansions, spend time on the road in million-dollar motorhomes and fly around in private jets; not so for the average race fan.

So when Kyle Larson talked a little about his recent travels on Friday at Martinsville Speedway — which included a delay on his commercial flight back from the West Coast — my ears perked up.

Larson is the NASCAR Cup Series points leader and has finished in the top two for four straight weeks — including a win at Fontana. The image of him trudging through the airport and sitting at the gate with his toddler son Owen while waiting for the airline to call his boarding zone number? That’s actually pretty cool.

“I fly commercial as much as I can and fly with the team (on charter flights),” Larson said. “That’s a lot of money to fly a private plane — especially to the West Coast. I’m cheap with my money when it comes to flying.”

He added: “And I like to rack up the miles so I can maybe get some free trips down the road.”

How great is that? I love that a star NASCAR driver actually cares about his frequent flyer status.

Larson acknowledged he’s gotten less frugal on flights as he’s gotten more successful — he now flies first class instead of coach. But that’s a relatively recent development.

“A couple years ago, (Ricky) Stenhouse and Danica (Patrick) — obviously, she’s a very wealthy person — she didn’t understand why I’d purchase a coach ticket,” Larson said. “Coach is $120 versus first class being $500 — I mean, I’m going to save that money (at the time).”

One bummer: Owen is now three months over the maximum age for holding a child on a parent’s lap (2 years old and under), so Larson has to buy an extra ticket (“Which really stinks,” he said).

Still, he finds commercial flights to be a good investment — even in comparison to flying with the Ganassi crew.

“The team plane, you have to stop and refuel (and there’s) no wifi,” he said with a smile. “Commercial is not bad.”

Of course, this won’t last forever. I remember seeing drivers like Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski on my flights to races before they started flying private. But it’s fun to think of the points leader in a “just like us!” situation for the time being.

“For the record, his days of flying commercial are just about over,” Jimmie Johnson said with a laugh.


Fan Profile: Lee Anne Fuller

This is the latest in a series of 12 Questions-style NASCAR fan profiles, which is part of a reward tier on my Patreon page.

Name: Lee Anne Fuller
Location: Alexandria, Va. — but formerly Martinsville.
Twitter name: GFTLFAN (GTFL stands for “Go fast, turn left”)
Age: 58

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1976.

2. How many races have you attended?

Too many to count.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

If you’re talking about all time, it’s David Pearson. But now it’s Denny Hamlin.

4. What made you a fan of those drivers?

I became a Pearson fan after the finish of the 1976 Daytona 500. As for Denny, I was a Dale Jarrett fan — and when he retired, I picked Denny because he’s from Virginia.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

At one time it was Tony Stewart, but I got over it.

6. Why didn’t you like Stewart?

He was not a fan of my hometown track, so I wasn’t a fan of his.

7. What is your favorite track?

Martinsville Speedway.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Go back to the vendor trailers for driver merchandise. That big tent (the Fanatics tent) is a disappointment.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The interaction between drivers and fans.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

So much that it’s embarrassing.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans? 

If you can’t attend the race or be somewhere to watch, then Twitter-watch it. The Twitter feeds are faster than TV sometimes anyway. It helps to follow a driver’s spouse or significant other on Twitter.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Even with all the rule changes and the playoff changes, when I hear the engines fire, smell the rubber coming off the tires, feel the thunder of those cars coming down the straightaway and see that green flag drop, I’m still a GFTL fan for life!

Lee Anne Fuller (Courtesy photo)