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.

11 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race”

  1. Hey McMurray, did you see what Logano did today? Yeah, you just cannot come back after going down two laps early, right? Whatever!

    Keslowski is this generation’s Darrel Waltrip. Nobody liked “Jaws” when he was young and brash either, and he backed up his talk with wins, which Kes does to a degree as well.

    Kudos to Goodyear on that tire compound. It made the race even better. That shot of you on your Periscope pulling up the rubber was cool to see. Thanks for showing us that.

    1. I love the DW comparison; back when Brad was fighting Jimmie for the title, I saw a lot of articles comparing Brad to Dale Sr. cause of his aggressive style. But to me, Brad’s never intimidated anyone — the guy cannot pull off the mean face to save his life — but he annoys the crap outta you and then beats you. If that doesn’t sum up DW, I don’t know what does.

  2. Kez’s inconsistent acceptance reminds me of how Jeff Gordon was viewed back in the day. No doubt time and talent will help the opinions come with a little better filter, and a nod to the older vets in the series. That has always been appreciated by the fans.

  3. I would argue that Kyle Busch is this generation’s Darrell Waltrip. Kes reminds me more of Rusty Wallace.

  4. That was a great race. It seems every race here the same guys are battling for a win. Kyle Busch always seems to be in the hunt here as are the Penske guys. I’m surprised Hamlin and Johnson weren’t more dominant.

  5. Nice wrap-up Jeff. I loved the racing yesterday, and that Fox took some of the focus off the leaders to show good battles back in the pack. But attendance? Yikes, those stands looked empty.

  6. Once again, short track racing is the best! The leader can’t run away and hide from everyone, stringing out the field so you can’t tell what’s happening without a stop watch. All the gimmicks in the world can’t fix what more short tracks can.

  7. I’m still not Brad’s biggest fan but I have gone from disliking him very much to finding him mildly annoying to being ok with him. My turning point actually came at the Nascar news conference when they announced the stage format. Brad was really the star of that one. He was like one of the infomercial guys who can convince a lot of people to buy wahtever they are selling regardless if you need it or not.

  8. I’ve been a Brad fan since 2011 and catch grief for it at races. He’s made me cringe at times, but those of us who really follow him know he’s a great guy. I think becoming a Family Man has matured him as of late and I hope more people recognize his contributions off the track as well as on.

  9. Aww I’m 76 and started watching nascar in 2013. I picked keselowski as my driver then. I think he’s a really great guy. He gives it all he’s got. Which makes a winner. Go keslowski.

  10. Where Kes really got my attention was calling the Xfinity race recently. He has an infectious enthusiasm for cars racing on a track, and it’s astonishing how natural he is at reciting an anecdote and wrapping up in time to catch action on the screen. I’m sure there’s a producer involved in setting that stuff up, but I can name a number of full-time TV guys who can’t bail out of a story in time to save their lives.

    Brad loves stock car racing, and makes you love it, too. That’s a good quality in a driver.

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