[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”247″][/media-credit]The oldest track on the circuit is also the smallest. They say big things come in small packages; and this weekend Martinsville delivered in a very big way.
The weekend was marred by more tire issues. Goodyear brought new right and left side tires. The right, a softer compound than the fall race of last year and the left a harder compound. They were trying to improve forward bite and add grip to the tire, something every team and driver had asked for. However, with no testing to prove the compound Goodyear was at a decided disadvantage. The new compound proved to be a border line situation with the track not taking rubber and the tire giving up after approximately 12 – 15 laps. Once the tire gave up it began to shred and throw rubber marbles to the second and upper groove of the track making them virtually unusable. Multiple drivers complained about the tires and the lack of grip and forward bite the cars obtained from them. But NASCAR and Goodyear didn’t view it as a concern. They continued to hold out hope that the track would rubber in after qualifying for the trucks and Cup cars and the Truck race.
It didn’t happen. And although, Kevin Harvick, who finished 4th in the truck race stated, “The tires are just such pieces of crap,’’ and Kyle Busch stated, “There’s no rubber on the race track,’’ after finishing 2nd in the Truck Race, tires were not a major factor.
The Camping World Truck race was an entertaining display that saw a Camping World Truck series regular in Johnny Sauter take the checkered flag ahead of series dominating, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
Sauter who passed Kyle Busch on the next to the last lap held on to record his first victory of the season. Busch who has never won at Martinsville held on to finish second by .453 seconds and was followed by Ron Hornaday and Kevin Harvick who over came a 2 lap deficit early in the race to garner a 4th place finish.
[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”215″][/media-credit]Anticipation was high heading in to Sunday or should I say trepidation. The concern over the inadequate tires continued to mount. Everyone from Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon to Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brad Keselowski voiced concerns over the tires. The concerns seemed to loom even larger for fans that had looked forward to the old school bump and run type racing that Martinsville had always delivered. “The poor tire situation is a direct result of not testing.” tweeted Keselowski. “Testing was eliminated in an effort to control costs but the owners just spent even more money on computer simulation programs and equipment that simulates testing.”
When start time rolled around, Mark Martin was set to make his 800th start in the series and Greg Biffle his 300th series start. Tires or not the cup drivers were ready to run the best race that they could.
They did not disappoint. The race was a return to the history of the sport. With the bump and run the most prevalent move of the day. The scariest occurrence was not tire related at all and came on lap 222 when the throttle stuck on Martin Truex’s Napa Auto Parts Camry causing him to take out both he and Kasey Kahne. The 56 of Truex momentarily caught fire and Kahne was slow to exit his car. But both drivers were checked and released from the infield care center with a clean bill of health.
The accident however resulted in a 22 minute red flag period to repair the safer barrier which was damaged when Truex hit it head on at speed.
Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch all lead at different points in the race. But perhaps the feel good story of the race came from the Hendrick Motorsports 88 team. Dale Earnhardt Jr took the lead on lap 480 with a bump and run on Kyle Busch. He would hold that lead until lap 496 when Kevin Harvick would take the lead when the 88 got loose going into turn one. Dale Jr would finish a bumper in front of Kyle Busch who came across the line in 3rd.
Earnhardt Jr who moved up to 8th in the points with the second place finish, his best points position since last spring at Texas doesn’t believe he is quite where he needs to be yet, “I ain’t really proved it to myself yet,” he said. “I’ll let you know when I feel like I’m back, personally. Anyone that watched that race today knows that we weren’t a second‑place race car or even a third‑place race car all day. We never were up there to prove that point. So there’s no argument: We got some work to do still.”
“We are faster, we are more competitive than last year. But we still got a little ways to go.”
But the promise shown by the 88 team has JRNation excited. It has NASCAR excited. Is he back? Maybe not, but his performances are showing all the promise of a young man who came on the scene and won in his rookie season against what was and arguably remains one of the toughest fields in NASCAR history.
This race was without a doubt the best of the season. It was a race of steps some big and some small. But steps none the less. This race showed us without a doubt that life and racing draw many parallels and if we are to succeed regardless of the quality of our equipment or our history we have to dig down and find the courage to take that step forward, even though the results could be disasterous. Whether you won last week or 98 races ago the champions of NASCAR took that huge step of faith on tires they doubted in cars that they were unsure of. They gritted their teeth put their trust in men on the roof and on the pit box and somewhere in the back of their minds they said, “Boogity Boogity Lets go racin boys.”
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Congratulations to Johnny Sauter and Thorsport racing on their first Camping World Truck Series win of the season. Congratulations to Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress racing on their 2nd win in a row.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.