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Kyle Busch is your new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader following the Martinsville race, with his third-place effort moving him up three spots to take over the No. 1 position.
Former points leader Carl Edwards slipped one spot to second, with Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Sunday's race winner Kevin Harvick rounding out the top five.
The biggest gainer on Sunday was Jamie McMurray, who finally got a good finish and moved up five spots to 23rd. Other big gainers included Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (eighth), Mark Martin (10th) and David Ragan (18th) – all of whom moved up four spots apiece.
Paul Menard lost the most positions of anyone, dropping six spots to 13th in the standings. Tony Stewart (11th) lost five spots, and Kasey Kahne (15th) and Martin Truex Jr. (17th) lost four each.
Here are the updated NASCAR point standings after Martinsville:
Martinsville saw a wide variety of emotions from the drivers in Sunday's race. Here's a sampling of some of them:
Marcos Ambrose (29th)
Ambrose said he was a "victim" of his early-race wreck, and said, "I don't know what McDowell was thinking."
"He just jacked me up and put me in the fence around lap 100," Ambrose said. "We weren't even a fifth of the way through, and it was uncalled for and unfortunate for us. It made for a very long day."
Matt Kenseth (6th)
Kenseth was penalized at the start of the race for an illegal pass, which left him a lap down and seemingly faced with another poor Martinsville finish.
But he kept chipping away and rallied for his best Martinsville finish since 2007.
"It was probably one of our best runs at Martinsville," he said. "I guess it was my mistake early, and it was just circumstances as to why we didn't run any better. Really, that's about the best we've performed."
Kenseth said "What are you gonna do?" when asked about his early penalty.
"If you try to do more than you're capable of doing, you're just gonna mess up and make it worse," he said.
Paul Menard (38th)
Menard said Gordon incorrectly "thought I got into him during that last run." As a result, Gordon brake-checked Menard and caused the No. 27 car to run into him, Menard said. Ultimately, engine issues from a busted radiator ended his day.
"That (contact) is probably what put the hole in the radiator," Menard said. "So I owe Robby Gordon."
David Ragan (8th)
Ragan got a much-needed top-10 finish, his best career result at Martinsville.
"If we could have caught a couple of lucky breaks, we might have had a shot to finish in the top three or four," he said. "... Thank the Lord for a good day. It was fun."
Martin Truex Jr. (40th)
Truex was lucky to be uninjured after his scary crash straight into the Turn 3 wall, a result of his throttle hanging open.
"No indication at all," he said. "Everything was fine, and I went to let off to go into (Turn) 3, and it stuck to the floor. At that point, there's nothing you can do."
Truex took out Kasey Kahne as well, and the crash sparked a fire from which Truex was able to quickly escape.
"It happens so fast, there's no way you can hit the kill switch or shut the thing off," he said. "Just lock up the brakes, and you're just a passenger at that point."
Kevin Harvick became the first person not named Denny Hamlin or Jimmie Johnson to win a Martinsville race since 2006 with his victory on Sunday.
But how did Hamlin (three straight Martinsville wins) and Johnson, the previous masters of the paperclip-shaped track, fare in this year's race?
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't awful: 11th for Johnson and 12th for Hamlin. For two drivers who expected to win, though, it wasn't anything close to a good day.
"It's disappointing for sure," said Hamlin, who needed a win or top-five result to get his season back on track. "We have to get rolling. We have to get some good, solid finishes."
Hamlin, who is still only 19th in points, said his team's fuel mileage wasn't acceptable for a team with championship aspirations.
"Our mileage just sucks real bad," he said. "It sucked at Phoenix and it sucks here. We just have to figure it out. All of the things we need to do to be a championship team – we don't have all those parts together right now."
Another problem is Hamlin's pit crew. After the team struggled on pit road, Hamlin said his No. 11 crew needs "to work on who we're going to have change tires for us, I guess."
"You've got chemistry and stuff that you've got to deal with, but at this point you either work with what you've got or try to find someone that can maybe do a better job," he added.
As for Johnson, the five-time defending champion was insistent that he did not speed on pit road while running in second place with 33 laps to go.
"I wasn't speeding," he said. "(NASCAR) didn't like how it looked – the way I managed my timing lines."
Johnson said he knows exactly where he needs to accelerate and where he needs to stop in order to not speed on pit road, which are broken up into smaller timing zones. And Johnson said he executed it, but NASCAR didn't like his method.
"People will say whatever," he said. "But with the math and the way we know our timing lines, there is just no way. ... With no one (in front of him), I accelerated like I always do from my mark. There is just no way. There is just no way. It won't do me any good to have a conversation (with NASCAR); it isn't going to matter.
"I guess I just can't attack pit road like I know I can and like I did every single time before this."
The day didn't do much to hurt Johnson in the point standings, though. Despite his first finish outside the Martinsville top 10 since 2002, he actually gained two spots and moved up to third in the Sprint Cup Series points.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew this was his day. With five laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. was leading the Martinsville race and appeared to be finally ready to snap his 98-race winless streak.
He could see the fans going crazy in the stands. He could sense that his long drought in the Sprint Cup Series was finally over.
But though Earnhardt Jr. said he thought "I was meant to win that damn race," it actually wasn't meant to be after all. Kevin Harvick kept coming and coming, and eventually passed for the lead – and the win.
Earnhardt Jr. got loose and slipped a bit as Harvick approached, and the Richard Childress Racing driver got underneath him. Earnhardt Jr. tried one last crossover move, but it wasn't enough.
The Junior Nation fans at Martinsville who had previously sensed victory were suddenly left disappointed.
They weren't the only ones. Earnhardt Jr. left a bit disappointed, too, though he said his honest emotion was that he was "fortunate" to finish second in a car that "should have finished 10th."
"I'm really thrilled," Earnhardt Jr. in his typically mellow fashion. "I know it don't look like it. But I've got such a hell of an opportunity. This is such a great group to be around, and I'm having fun it. I'm racing cars. It's all I've ever wanted to do.
"I want to run like this. I want to finish like this and run a little bit better than this on every weekend, and we are right on the outside of that – and it's frustrating to be that close. It was frustrating to be leading the race with inside 10 laps to go and be passed."
But Earnhardt Jr. added there was "definitely a brighter side" to the day, and pledged he "won't forget to notice that."
As the laps wound down, it became clear Earnhardt Jr. was willing to do whatever it took to win the race. He gave a bump to then-leader Kyle Busch and moved his occasional rival up the track with 21 laps to go ("I was holding him up," Busch said later). He later tried to prevent Harvick from getting by, but to no avail.
"I was just doing the best could I do with the car and trying to make the best out of the situation," he said. "We had an opportunity to win the race. I'm disappointed that I didn't get the job done and it will probably bother me more and more as the night goes on. I'll probably think about it a million times what I probably could have done differently."
Earnhardt Jr. moved up four spots to eighth in the Sprint Cup Series standings (his highest points position since last April's Texas race), but said his recent run of solid finishes doesn't mean he's "back" just 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."
It almost looked like Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s day at the Goody's Fast Relief 500 Martinsville Speedway. Then Kevin Harvick stole his lead and his shine as the race ended, extending Earnhardt's winless streak for at least one more race.
Harvick took the lead from Earnhardt Jr. at the Martinsville short track with less than ten laps to go, then pulled away from Junior — and Kyle Busch, who briefly passed Earnhardt Jr. for second before being pipped by Junior at the finish line — to win comfortably.
It's Harvick's second win in as many weeks: he also claimed the checkered flag at California's Auto Club Speedway last week.
The victory would have been Earnhardt Jr.'s first win since a victory at Michigan in June 2008, 98 races ago. And it likely won't be a race Junior fans soon forget, in any case: Harvick drives a Budweiser-sponsored Chevrolet, and has assumed roles Earnhardt Jr. (Bud's driver of choice) and his father (Richard Childress Racing's flagship team) once held.
Those are the sorts of details that smart.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon completed the top five behind Harvick, Earnhardt Jr., and Busch.
Full results from the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Daytona International Speedway are as follows:
It's time for another race chat, and we'll be using the CoverItLive format again this week (in lieu of finding something better). As with the last two weeks, please be patient as you wait to be "approved" as a commenter.
This seems to be the best format for now, though feedback is always appreciated. It sounds as if there will be a lot to talk about with the race today, so let's get started:
Good morning from Martinsville Speedway, where it's a bit chilly to start the day. Things are expected to warm up later, though – both on and off the track.
Here's what you need to know heading into today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville.
Race name/distance: Longtime Martinsville sponsor Goody's is sponsoring today's race, which is called the Goody's Fast Relief 500. The race isn't 500 miles, though – it's 500 laps around the paperclip-shaped track that measures just over a half-mile in length. The actual distance of the race is 263 miles.
Start time: The actual green flag time is expected to be at 1:13 p.m. Eastern time. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual event, turn on your TV at 1:13.
TV/radio info: As with all of the races in the first part of the season, the Martinsville race will be televised on FOX. Martinsville is owned by International Speedway Corp., which means the ISC-owned Motor Racing Network will be broadcasting the race on the radio. To check and see the MRN station nearest you, check the network's affiliate list here.
National anthem/race officials: Country star Trace Adkins, who has an association with Goody's, is singing the national anthem today. The honorary starter is a camper from the Victory Junction Gang Camp, and the grand marshals are guests from the Wounded Warrior Project.
Last time: Denny Hamlin had a miracle comeback one year ago after he gave up the lead to pit with only a few laps left. He then finished his Martinsville season sweep with another victory in October. Overall, Hamlin has won the last three races at Martinsville.
Starting lineup: The starting lineup for Martinsville has been updated to reflect Joe Nemechek's disqualification. His time was thrown out after a penalty, dropping him from 37th to 43rd.
Approximately one-third of NASCAR race weekends this season are scheduled to have a Saturday qualifying session for the Sprint Cup Series instead of the traditional Friday practice/qualifying day.
Track operators – led by the International Speedway Corp. – have said a Saturday qualifying session will give more value to ticket holders who can't take off work on Fridays.
Drivers, though, are in a wait-and-see mode about the unusual schedule. At Martinsville, for instance, the schedule called for them to have three hours of practice on Friday, then return to the half-mile track for just two laps on Saturday.
Since most drivers stay at their Charlotte-area homes and commute, some of them privately grumbled.
Publicly, the drivers said they were in favor of what was best for the fans. But not all of them were sure if the Saturday qualifying was a good idea or not.
Jimmie Johnson called it "wild" and "weird" to only run two laps on Saturday after spending all day at the track on Friday. He said it wasn't as much a concern for himself as it was for the crews.
"The fans' (interests) are first and foremost," Johnson said. "But the next one in line I would say would be the mechanics and crews working on these cars. And they have a bear of a day on Fridays with this type of schedule and then an OK day (Saturday) – a pretty light day – for just two laps.
"You'd rather spread that workload out over the two days and take care of your crew guys. I don't know why or how, but if it does help on (the fan) side, then we'll take it."
Ryan Newman said it would make more sense to simply use Martinsville practice speeds to set the qualifying lineup instead of coming back on Saturday.
"I don't know what the schedule is after our Cup practice (on Friday), but if we could qualify after our Cup practice and make it a two-day event, that, to me, makes the most sense," he said. "I have the opportunity to go back and forth, so coming up (Saturday) for two laps is not the most planned, I guess you could say, as far as use of everybody's time.
"Then you have guys on crews coming up here and spending nights in motels just to be here for two laps. I think it is experiment and I'm not mad about it, but I don't see that it makes entire sense right now."
Kurt Busch praised the move, saying it benefited race fans and paired qualifying with the "race atmosphere" of Saturday's Truck series event.
"You come in to watch a truck race and you get Cup qualifying as well," he said. "And then you get the full action on Sunday with the full 500 laps. Whatever we can do to make it better for our fans, I think NASCAR has adjusted to it as well as the racetracks."
Kevin Harvick, who lives closer to Martinsville than any other track, said he was "all about what's best for the show."
"If it's best for the show for us to have qualifying on Saturday, that's what we need to do to give the fans more bang for their buck with their ticket on Saturday," he said. "For us as a race team, I like it just for the fact that you gotta work on your car all day Friday, you can sit overnight and really think about what's going on."
And of course, some drivers didn't seem to care either way.
"It's alright," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "It doesn't matter one way or another. It is fine like this, it's good."
Jamie McMurray won the Martinsville pole on Saturday afternoon, resulting in his eighth career No. 1 starting spot and first of the season.
McMurray, who had a career-high four poles last year, picked up the first-ever Martinsville pole for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
"This is really big for our race team," McMurray said. "We've had fast cars all year, and just haven't had the luck and haven't been able to put the finishes together."
McMurray, who has only one top-20 finish this season, is mired in 28th in the points and in need of a good run.
Ryan Newman will start on the outside pole, followed by Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin – who has won the last three Martinsville races.
Hamlin's counterpart in Martinsville dominance, Jimmie Johnson, didn't have a good qualifying run. Johnson will start 17th.
Because of Dennis Setzer's crash in practice on Friday (he had no backup car), only 43 cars attempted to qualify. All of them made the race.
Here is the starting lineup for Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the tire situation at Martinsville Speedway this weekend was "pretty disappointing" and that the tire was "really crappy," but that NASCAR and its race teams were stuck with what they had.
Teams discovered Friday that the new race tire Goodyear had brought to Martinsville was not laying rubber down on the track and was instead coming apart, leaving marbles in the upper racing groove.
"After 12 laps, everybody was kind of falling off pretty fast," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There were a lot of marbles. You couldn't get out of the bottom groove; you had to run right next to the curb, or you'd get in the marbles and it'd ruin you.
"Once you got in the marbles, you ruin that set. There's no way to get 'em off. We don't go fast enough here to really grain 'em off. It was messy. It was just real messy all day."
Earnhardt Jr. said he asked NASCAR for an explanation – and got one – but couldn't recall the details. He said it "sounded legitimate" and "made a little bit of sense," though.
"We're wishing for the best," he said. "Goodyear is trying to make some changes to their tires and the way their tires are made or whatever. You just don't make changes just to be making changes."
NASCAR's most popular driver, 12th in points, said teams will have to decide what direction to go in based on a guess for how the track will take rubber. Drivers will want the car to be comfortable right away, but if the track eventually takes rubber, it'll get much tighter.
So Earnhardt Jr. predicted crew chiefs would have to leave the car loosened up at the start of the race in hopes that the track would later tighten up.
Though he said the tire "just comes apart," he also said it wasn't as serious of a situation as NASCAR had at Indianapolis in 2008.
The solution in the future would be for Goodyear to conduct more tire testing, Earnhardt Jr. said.
For now, though, it's too late.
"We've had some good events here and hopefully we'll get lucky and the track will rubber up," he said, "but it's not looking so good right now."
David Ragan, who was once infamously called a "dart with no feathers" by Tony Stewart at Martinsville Speedway, paced the final Sprint Cup Series practice at the half-mile Virginia track on Friday afternoon.
Ragan topped the charts with a speed of 96.268 mph, ahead of Martinsville master Jeff Gordon (96.220), Brad Keselowski, David Reutimann and Kasey Kahne heading into Saturday's qualifying session.
Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson – who have combined to win every Martinsville race since October 2006 – weren't the fastest cars on Friday. They ended the final session with Johnson 16th and Hamlin 20th on the practice sheet.
Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, Marcos Ambrose, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.
The times might be somewhat misleading; some drivers practiced qualifying more, while others focused more on race trim.
There were two incidents during the final practice: Joey Logano (who was second-fastest in the first session) spun and hit the wall, forcing him to a backup car; Dennis Setzer lost the brakes and nailed the Turn 3 wall, completely destroying his K-Automotive ride.
Setzer (who is subbing for Brian Keselowski) has no backup car. Since only 44 cars are entered at Martinsville, Setzer's absence will mean everyone will make the race.
Qualifying at Martinsville is Saturday at 12:10 p.m. local time; the track moved qualifying on Saturday to provide more value to fans who can't attend due to work on Friday.
A local TV guy asked Tony Stewart about NASCAR's new points system on Friday at Martinsville Speedway. But Stewart didn't really feel like talking about it, apparently.
Here's Stewart, in his own words:
I don't even worry about it, bud. I look at where I am at and I go to the next race. Everybody wants to analyze it. Nobody is worrying about it but you guys. You guys are the only ones that ask any questions about it. We don't care. It is what it is.
We know what it is to start with. It doesn't matter whether we like it or dislike it. This is what we have got. I don't think anybody has complaints. I don't think anybody cares really right now.
You go out and try to win races and get as many points each week as you can. It's not...it doesn't matter whether we tell we like it or dislike it. Nobody is going to change it, right? So why are we talking about it? It doesn't matter.
The funny thing here is that Stewart has a point. The differences between last year's points system and this year's points system are relatively minor, and not worth getting all worked up about early in the season.
But Stewart just has a way about him, particularly when a local TV guy asks him a question when Smoke is in one of his bad moods.
It's like the scene in Jurassic Park when they put a helpless goat on a chain as food for a T-Rex: It's just not gonna end well for the goat.
Kasey Kahne is off to a good start this season – his lone campaign with Red Bull Racing before he moves to Hendrick Motorsports – and sits 11th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings entering Martinsville.
With three top-10 finishes in the last four races, Kahne said he and crew chief Kenny Francis are happy at Red Bull but still working to get a feel for the cars.
"They're a little different, so it's taken some time...to get them perfected," Kahne said. "I think we're getting closer. I don't feel like we've run that well yet, as far as the car and myself and how it's went throughout the whole race."
Everything else has been good, he said. Kahne enjoys the "attitude and excitement" at Red Bull and said the fun atmosphere with the team "is back to kind of how it should be."
"I think racing should be fun," he said. "It's a job, but it should be fun, too."
The eighth-year Cup driver said he's optimistic about the rest of the season, particularly since the team has run well despite still feeling "like we're missing it."
"I think we could have a pretty good season," he said.
Jimmie Johnson swore he had no idea today is April Fool's Day. Same with Kyle Busch, who seemed appreciative that reporters warned him. And even the biggest prankster of them all, Kevin Harvick, claimed he had no practical jokes in mind for today – yet.
At least Harvick was able to share a memory of an old prank he pulled six or seven years ago. Although his "prank" sounded more mean than actually funny.
"We crushed (wife) DeLana's aunt's car with a monster truck one day while they were at lunch," Harvick said. "She came back around the corner with a monster truck in the field and we crushed her car. That was pretty funny."
Harvick said his wife's aunt loved the car, too – an '88 Pontiac Bonneville. She would have never gotten rid of it, he added.
"We made her cry," he said. "We did give her a new car (a Chevy Impala). We didn't tell her that for awhile, though. I didn't really think she was going to cry."
Harvick, who has also filled a car with bouncy balls and put crap (literally) in the office of right-hand man Josh Jones, warned he'd come up with another prank before April Fool's Day was over.
"Surely, by the end of the day I'll be able to think of something," he said.
The last time someone other than Jimmie Johnson or Denny Hamlin won a race at Martinsville Speedway, people were still using MySpace, Talladega Nights hadn't been released in theaters yet and no one had ever heard of Lady Gaga.
In other words, it was a long time ago. Five years ago, actually.
Tony Stewart won the April 2, 2006 race at the paperclip-shaped short-track in Virginia. Since then, the list winners at Martinsville:
Here's the full weekend schedule for Martinsville Speedway (all times Eastern):
11 a.m. – Truck practice (1 hr, 20 min)
12:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hr, 30 min)
2:10 p.m. – Truck practice (1 hr, 10 min)
3:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hr, 30 min)
10:40 a.m. – Truck qualifying
12:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
2 p.m. – Truck race
1 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race
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