The 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion came into the weekend at Martinsville with zero grandfather clocks. He left with two, winning the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday afternoon and following it up with a dominant showing in the STP 500 on Sunday.
“What time is it?” Busch radioed to his team after crossing the finish line and doing celebratory burnouts, which he has become pretty good at lately. “Time to tell the haters to shut up!” he shouted, in reference to NASCAR fans getting on him for running in the lower series too much and always winning. After leading 352 of the 500 laps, the No. 18 car found victory lane for the first time this season and the first time in his career at the half-mile track.
“The M&M’s Camry was awesome in practice,” Busch said. “We had a really good car through practice, and Adam [Stevens, crew chief] made some really good adjustments overnight to keep us where we needed to be, running up front all day.”
Busch took the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth to lead the final 173 laps en route to the victory.
Kenseth came home 15th after being shuffled backwards on the final restart due to being stuck in the outside lane. At Martinsville, on restarts, if you aren’t on the bottom, you’re pretty much screwed. It is extremely hard to get down to the bottom (preferred line) and the rest of the field “freight-trains” you, as you fall back like a rock.
The driver of the No. 20 car led 45 laps on the day, and his fate was shared by another former champion – Kevin Harvick. Harvick led 72 laps on the afternoon, but was shuffled back and ended up finishing 17th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the same story, finishing 14th. However, Junior brought out the first caution of the afternoon after David Ragan spun him out on lap five. The No. 88’s next 300 laps were focused on gaining the “lucky dog” position, where you get your lap back at the time of the caution if the driver is the first car one lap down.
AJ Allmendinger ended up finishing in second place, his best finish in over a year. Although he didn’t lead any laps, it became apparent that the No. 47 was one of the cars to beat in the last 100 laps.
“God, I wish we had one more spot,” the JTG Daugherty driver said. “We got our car really, really good on the long runs. That’s kind of where I thought we shined. We didn’t have great short-run speed, but after about 30 or 40 laps we could really get rolling there. I was kind of hoping we’d stay green the last 120 laps. I figured that wasn’t going to happen, but I was praying we had a shot at that, because I felt like if that happened, we had a great chance to win the race.”
Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski (overcame speeding penalty on lap 93), Carl Edwards (was one lap down for 350+ laps), Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten. If you had predicted that top ten before the race had begun, please let me know, because that is one weird top ten when it comes to names if you ask me.
Polesitter Joey Logano finished 11th after going one lap down early in the first long green flag run. Kurt Busch finished 13th, Danica Patrick finished 16th (ran as high as seventh), Martin Truex Jr. finished 18th and Denny Hamlin finished 39th after crashing towards the middle of the race due to wheel hopping. Hamlin, a five-time Martinsville winner, called the incident “embarrassing”, but was happy they had a fast car once again at the short track.
Harvick retained the series lead in the points standings by four points over Jimmie Johnson despite his 17th place finish, his first result outside the top ten this season. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Duck Commander 500, where Johnson is the defending winner. After Texas, the series heads to two more short-track races in a row at Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond, respectively.