The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville spring race

1. Does Brad get enough love?

Is it possible Brad Keselowski has been underrated all this time?

Keselowski is certainly a star driver and a regular contender, so it’s not like he gets ignored. But when people discuss the best of the best — the absolute top drivers in NASCAR — Keselowski feels overlooked.

For example: While it’s not a hot take to say “Brad Keselowski is a great driver,” it seems like you’d get more pushback if you said, “Brad Keselowski is the best driver in NASCAR.”

But why is that? People would probably say Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were among the best, or even Kyle Larson when it comes to pure talent.

Keselowski isn’t always mentioned in the same breath. Penske teammate Joey Logano, the defending Cup Series champ, gets more recognition lately than Keselowski does.

Maybe it’s time to change how we view Keselowski after he led 446 laps (!!) on Sunday at Martinsville.

After all, this wasn’t a one-off performance. Keselowski has now won five of the last 18 Cup races dating back to the Southern 500 — more than anyone else during that time.

This is a 35-year-old who can win on superspeedways and intermediates and short tracks — and every size oval in between. His combination of smarts, talent and aggression seems to consistently allow him to run up front.

I’m not saying he’s the best — Kyle Busch has a pretty firm grip on that label at the moment — but I also don’t think Keselowski is that far behind.

2. Straight as the aero

This is getting to be an unpleasant topic, and I really don’t want to dwell on it much because it seems repetitive. But Martinsville was more evidence the new aero package may have had impacts beyond just the intermediate tracks — and in a negative way for short tracks.

Keselowski had a great day, but it seemed like Chase Elliott actually had a faster car when he passed Keselowski under green. Once Keselowski got the lead back in the pits, however, Elliott was never able to pass him again.

“I think the stats maybe look a little bit more dominant than I think it really was,” Keselowski said. “I thought Chase was probably the best car most of the day today, and he passed me there with 150 or so to go. I thought that might be the end of our day.

“(My) pit crew did an excellent job gaining or retaining our track position all day, which is critical here at this racetrack. … That was so, so key to being able to win today, because I think Chase, if he’d have been out front that run, he would have drove away from the field with what I saw from his car.”

Considering this is a short track we’re talking about, that is…not great! Of all places, you’d think Martinsville would be immune to aero issues. But as Denny Hamlin noted, the huge spoilers this year make traffic “just a little bit tougher” than before — and perhaps that’s all it took to put a damper on passing.

Again, I don’t want to harp on this because there’s clearly more to be determined this season. But if the short track package was enough to hurt the Phoenix race and perhaps even affect Martinsville, what’s it going to do to Bristol, Richmond and New Hampshire?

3. Call it maybe?

With David Hoots out of the control tower, NASCAR has new direction when it comes to calling races — including determining what is a caution and what isn’t.

But Martinsville showed the circumstances for throwing a yellow flag still aren’t clearly defined.

During a long, green-flag run, William Byron had contact with Ty Dillon that resulted in Byron doing a half spin. Byron saved it, gathered the car back up after momentarily slowing and kept rolling.

NASCAR called a caution, labeling it as “#13, 24 Incident Turn 4” on the official race report.

Shortly after the ensuing restart, Erik Jones got damage that ended up giving him a flat tire and a torn fender. He limped around the track, shedding potential debris, while unable to get down to pit road. He finally did — under green — and there was no caution called.

The difference between those two moments seemed slight. If either was caution-worthy, it might have been Jones over Byron. But the Jones incident didn’t really go with the flow of the race, while Byron’s half-spin came at a time when a caution was helpful to reset the field.

So when is a caution necessary and when is it not? Is it a 100-percent safety-related decision? Does the flow of the race help determine when a yellow comes out? I don’t know those answers.

It would be nice to hear NASCAR lay out why a flag is thrown in some instances and why it is not in others. Perhaps it could even spell out what the tower deems caution-worthy for future races, because fans and competitors alike would benefit from that kind of transparency.

4. Panic time?

Chase Elliott finished second and could have won the race on Sunday.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson, was 24th — two laps down.

What gives? While it’s true Johnson hasn’t been his former self at Martinsville for awhile — aside from his 2016 win, he hasn’t finished better than ninth since 2014 — you wouldn’t have expected him to be so far off.

Surely there’s an explanation for this and the team has more answers, but as an outsider, it’s baffling. Johnson is still in amazing physical shape — he’s training for the Boston Marathon! — and presumably still has great hand-eye coordination. What’s lacking is the proper feel he needs from the car.

It’s one thing for Hendrick to miss it as a team at intermediate tracks. But at Martinsville, which should be an equalizer? And on a day when Elliott was performing so well? Seeing Johnson struggle like that is just strange, and it raises far more questions than answers.

5. More short tracks

Even though the race was tame by Martinsville standards (Sunday was only the fourth time since 1997 there were less than eight caution flags), it was still a better race than at most intermediate tracks.

Keselowski, despite being dominant, never really drove away. And there was always some battle going on somewhere on the track — as opposed to the field getting strung out and single-file.

Expectations color everything in NASCAR these days, and Martinsville definitely has very high expectations based on its history (especially in the fall races). This may not have lived up to the hype, but it was still a fine race.

So yeah. Let’s keep beating the “More Short Tracks” drum. Because a short track race on a bad day is still pretty decent.

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

  1. Brad is a great driver and for reason he doesn’t seem to have a big fan base for some reason .
    But hey I’m a Ford fan so I’m a fan !! 🏁

  2. You’re exactly right with the last point in particular. While this race was more tame than most Martinsville races, it was still really entertaining. Just hope they get this schedule mixup right in a couple of seasons.

  3. Yes caution flags are still inconsistent. Typical of NASCAR to not be able to fix a problem.

    I hate when great drivers race too long and become backmarkers. Johnson should have done farewell tour last year.

    High downforce has never worked in the past. But NASCAR, in their infinite wisdom, decided to do it again. Now all tracks are affected the wrong way. Stupid!

  4. The Jimmie Johnson riddle is baffling. While we want new people to win, that amount of money and talent should never be in the second half of the field. Truly puzzling.

  5. I really wish Jimmie would’ve called it last year. We’ve seen quite a few drivers that stayed past their prime and didn’t go out the way they wished they could. Jimmie deserves better than that.

    As for Hendrick Motorsports they have been trending downwards for awhile now. It was there but really became apparent when SHR ended their deal and HM’s numbers really went down. Some of it is the Camaro which just seems off somewhere. But IMO it’s mainly time has passed them by. NASCAR history is filled with dominant teams that eventually fall off. Wood Bros., Junior Johnson, RCR and of course Pretty Ent., everyone eventually sees their performance decline. Completely natural. Not saying they won’t win again but the days of domination have ended. Impressed it lasted for so long, longer than most, but the writing is on the wall.

  6. Remember when Tony Stewart lost the feel for the car. Seems like Jimmie’s suffering the same problem. And the Camaro seems not to be up to snuff.

  7. A mediocre race at Martinsville is still better than any race at and 1 1/2 mile track. That said, however, I didn’t even bother to watch the truck race with Kyle in the field. Foregone conclusions aren’t exciting.

  8. I feel that Neither Brad nor Joey gets the credit that’s due them. They’re almost always in the mix and since the last half of last season they’ve been dominant but you’d hardly know it from the media. They’re both intelligent and well spoken people and not only show it on the track but also off of it. I especially enjoy Brad’s analyses during interviews and television appearances.

  9. I thought it the race was very similar to races from the 80s and 90s. When one driver would dominant the entire race. I didn’t mind it at all. If they got rid of the wave around I think the race would be more interesting seeing which drivers are going to be aggressive to stay on the lead lap.

    I know this comment doesn’t have any affect to this race but what would you think about NASCAR letting teams decide what aero package to run at mile and a half tracks. Keep it at the 550hp package but allow teams a week before the race announce what package. Aero ducts or brake ducts for the race. Give some strategy and creativity for the teams. see what the drivers think is a bigger focus for each race weekend.

  10. I saw a tweet from Cole Pearn that said no racing series ever has increased corner speeds and produced better racing, but here we are. Pretty sure he hit the nail on the head there. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that extended braking zones and slower overall speeds and grip in the corners is what produces more passing and better racing. You do that with higher straightaway speeds, less downforce, and a thinner tire. It baffles me that this is the direction NASCAR has decided to go with this package. I want to see a faster car be able to drive up behind someone, get to the rear bumper to loosen them up in the corner, and drive right on by. Currently, the trailing car can’t even get to the bumper because of the aero package. Lay that spoiler down, give them 850 horsepower, and watch the racing improve almost overnight.

    1. I agree that some changes might help the racing but i feel that NASCAR is also aware of this but they want to give things time to shake out before jumping into more changes. To me, one of the best changes they could make would be to up the HP about 50 on the mile and a halfs but I’m not a physicist or aerodynamicist so theremay well be unintended consequences to any changes.

  11. Niềng răng mắc cài kim loại là phương pháp
    chỉnh tiêu dùng mắc cài và dây cung đưa răng về đúng vị trí
    trên cung hàm, đảm bảo khớp cắn và vấn đề thẩm mỹ.

    Có 3 loại niềng răng mắc cài kim loại là Niềng răng mắc
    cài kim loại thông thường, Niềng răng mắc cài
    kim loại tự khóa và niềng răng mắc cài kim loại mặt trong.

    Niềng răng mắc cài kim loại dù là mắc cài thường ngày
    hay mắc cài tự khóa đều có thể áp dụng cho phần lớn các đối tượng khách hàng.
    Những trường hợp bị các khiếm khuyết về răng như hô, móm,
    thưa, lệch lạc dù là trẻ nhỏ hay người lớn đều có thể tiêu dùng
    niềng răng mắc cài kim loại.

  12. 1. Keselowski may not be talked about like Busch and Harvick or even Logano because he’s more professional than those guys. His talent I’m not sure anyone ever questioned.

    2. This is why I hate a lot of fans and writers – you’re just now realizing aeropush is worse in short tracks than superspeedways? Aero on short tracks has ALWAYS been more important than on the supers. If you’ve ever seen the rake on short track cars – and especially dirt cars – you’d have known this by now. Also the bigger spoiler allowed the drivers to fire through the corners stronger at this a Martinsville and this is what racing needs to be about – SPEED UP to go faster (and pass everyone ahead of you) Get rid of slow down to go faster.

    3. What is and isn’t a caution isn’t something a lot of us are really that qualified to pontificate about.

    4. What gives with Johnson? He’s cooked. Period. And Chevrolet is completely screwed up as a NASCAR program. We should be asking why Chevrolet isn’t opening up every Chevy team’s engineering data and sharing it with each other. We also need to ask if it is true Chevrolet slashed its NASCAR budget – and if it’s a harbinger for quitting entirely.

    5. More short tracks? No. The fact remains they are weaker as competition venues and as markets for major league racing. A disappointing Fontana was well more competitive than most short track races. If NASCAR truly wants to shake up the schedule…..take away a date apiece from Bristol, Richmond, and Martinsville, three of the weakest markets and competitive venues for the three major tours.

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