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For the fourth straight week, Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle left a racetrack with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead.
And because of the upcoming NASCAR off-week, Biffle will get an extra week atop the standings – thanks to his 13th-place finish on Sunday at Martinsville. But there's a new second-place driver, and he took a chunk out of Biffle's lead on Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now second in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, just six points behind Biffle. This is the highest Earnhardt Jr. has been in points this far into a season since 2008.
The biggest gainer on Sunday was AJ Allmendinger, who jumped six spots after his runner-up finish to move to 20th in the point standings – a much needed run for the Penske Racing driver.
And the biggest loser? That title went to Kasey Kahne, who dropped four spots after a blown engine and fell to an astounding 31st in points – an absolutely nightmarish start to his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports.
Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Martinsville:
After Kasey Kahne sped to the pole on Saturday, the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway was supposed to be the race in which the newest Hendrick Motorsports driver turned around his frustrating results.
But instead of being the turning point to getting his year back on track, Sunday's NASCAR race was just the latest where Kahne was left feeling disappointed and unfilled.
After running in the top 10 for first 150 laps, everything was going to plan. But a faulty engine which later expired in a ball of smoke just past halfway put Kahne in the garage permanently, and he ended up 38th in the final rundown.
"We had a great Hendrickcars.com Chevy," Kahne said. "Really fast and the best I had ever been here. Engine was running great and we were just battling a little loose. We needed another pit stop to get that right and we could battle with Jeff (Gordon).
"It was fun driving and we had a small engine problem that turned into a big one on the backstretch and just shut off and I had oil on my tires when I hit pit road. I just didn't want to oil the whole surface for all the guys out there so I just shot to the pits and it went spinning and it wasn't a big deal because I didn't hit anything luckily."
This was the fourth time this season where Kahne has finished 29th or worse, and as a result he finds himself 31st in the standings six races into 2012. More worrisome: Kahne is just 16 points from being outside the top 35 and having to qualify his way in on speed.
It's certainly not the start to the year Kahne wanted in his first year driving for Hendrick Motorsports, but despite the numerous setbacks, he remains optimistic that better days are ahead.
"I am upset that we haven't run great this year," Kahne said. "But we are great on Friday and Saturday and we were fast again today and we have the speed, so when it's our time, we will be ready to take advantage of it. "
As the laps wound down at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, this much was clear: Either Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson was about to win the Goody's Fast Relief 500.
Johnson, Gordon and their Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. were running 1-2-3 in the final laps, and team owner Rick Hendrick appeared to be just moments away from his organization's 200th victory.
But then a caution came out for David Reutimann's stalled car, and Johnson and Gordon elected to stay out of the pits. On the ensuing restart, Clint Bowyer got a shove from Ryan Newman and dove aggressively underneath Gordon's car.
Then all hell broke loose.
The three-wide set of leaders – Bowyer, Gordon and Johnson – all spun at the same time, and Ryan Newman powered through to snatch away the race lead. Newman eventually went on to win the race, while Johnson finished 12th and Gordon finished 14th.
"It pretty much sucked," Bowyer said. "... They should have won the race and we should have finished fourth there, but that's just the nature of the beast. When a car's got (fresh) tires and other cars don't..."
It was somewhat predictable that a wreck would occur, particularly in the event Gordon and Johnson were unable to get a good restart. And according to Bowyer, that's what happened.
"(Gordon) spun the tires pretty hard," he said. "If I didn't go down there, (Newman) had already hit me in the rear and he was going to."
The drivers were initially upset with Bowyer for his move, but things quickly calmed down.
"It's just unfortunate (when) something stupid, a last-ditch effort, dive-bomb or something along those lines wipes you out," Johnson said. "But when you race long enough, you know that stuff happens."
Gordon and Bowyer spoke immediately after the race and Gordon appeared to be angry, but when he spoke with reporters, Gordon said the two were good friends.
"I like Clint; who doesn't like Clint Bowyer?" Gordon said. "He is just one of those guys that everybody likes. I love racing with him. It was unlike him to do that. I was pretty mad at the time, but after understanding what happened, I wouldn't blame it on him."
Gordon admitted he spun his tires, which is why Bowyer had the opportunity to dive to the bottom.
"That's Martinsville, green-white-checkered," Gordon said. "There are no guarantees at this place. Anytime they stack them up like that you know it is going to get ugly in the first couple of corners."
Johnson said he knew from experience that Bowyer's decision to go three-wide was tempting, but it wasn't wise.
"Guys typically don't make that move, because you are on the curb on that inside lane when you drive in there like that," he said. "So when I heard 'three-wide,' it was pretty late and I didn't have anywhere to go. ... Then I felt the 24 come up into me and I knew we were in trouble."
When Sunday's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway began, Tony Stewart was on the short list of those who were expected to contend for the win in the Goody's Fast Relief 500.
After an eventful race, though, it wasn't Stewart the driver standing tall in Victory Lane but Stewart the car owner celebrating as his other team – featuring driver Ryan Newman – scored the unexpected win.
"I'm ecstatic for Ryan," said Stewart, whose two-car Stewart-Haas Racing team won for the third time this season. "I got to see it on the replay during the caution after all the havoc broke loose. Ryan made an awesome move to the bottom. He was heads up enough to get in the gas and get through that hole before it closed up. He definitely earned this one, for sure."
Surprisingly, on a track where he won on last October, Stewart was nonfactor for much of the afternoon. Starting 15th, the owner/driver gained little ground through the early stages and lagged behind for much of the day on the outskirts of the top 10, even going down a lap in the closing 100 laps.
But like the other car he owns, Stewart battled back from being a lap down, and when the caution waved with two laps to go thanks to David Reutimann's stalled car, Stewart found himself back on the lead lap courtesy of the free pass.
With the chaos that ensued on the following green-white-checkered restart brought on by contact among the leaders, Stewart was able to drive through the madness and into the top 10, leaving Martinsville with a hard-fought seventh-place finish.
"Unfortunately, we had our worst run of the day the last run of the day," Stewart said, talking about the last 100 laps when he went a lap down. "We got behind there and got a lap down, but clawed back to get the lucky dog and rallied back to seventh."
With his third top-10 of the season, Stewart moved up one spot in the standings to third as the series heads into its first off week of 2012 before traveling to Texas Motor Speedway for the year's first Saturday night race, the Samsung Mobile 500.
David Reutimann and his team owner Tommy Baldwin insisted the No. 10 car had a problem that caused it to stop on the track with three laps to go in Sunday's NASCAR race at Martinsville, but other drivers weren't convinced.
"There should have never been a yellow to begin with," said Brad Keselowski, who went from fifth to ninth as a result of the caution and ensuing wreck on the restart. "The 10 car stopping on the racetrack was chicken shit. To me, he should get a week off for doing something like that."
Keselowski said an intentional caution "should be one of the biggest penalties there is."
"Any caution that affects the outcome of the race intentionally is a really, really bad deal and it's a black eye for the sport," he said.
Reutimann stopped on the track and caused a caution that eventually ruined the days of then-leaders Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. After the caution, Clint Bowyer dove three-wide on Johnson and Gordon and took out both.
But Bowyer pointed the finger at Reutimann for triggering the chain of events and said he didn't know "what the hell the 10 car was doing."
"He drove around there with no brakes until it finally just come to a halt," Bowyer said. "It's unfortunate."
Third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't mad at Bowyer for taking out his Hendrick teammates, but was instead upset with Reutimann for stopping on the track.
"It doesn't seem like there could be a logical reason for him to end up stopped on the track," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He was running around slow. You got a problem, you really get down and get on pit road. I don't believe he had any trouble getting down.
"I would like to hear a good excuse to be honest with you, because I'm sure it would be laughable."
So what was Reutimann's explanation? He told FOX after the race that the motor "just quit."
"I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack," he said. "I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do. The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn't stop there intentionally.
"I know it sucks. I hate it for everybody that it affected, but, I mean, I can't get out and push the thing."
Several drivers said they saw Reutimann's side of the story and didn't blame him for the caution.
"I saw he couldn't turn the wheel, so I would think he was afraid to get in the corner and try to steer around and end up wrecking somebody," said Denny Hamlin, who finished sixth. "I didn't mind it, personally, because we could have been one of the cars he ran into."
Michael Waltrip, Reutimann's former team owner, added via Twitter:
Team owner Tommy Baldwin walked through the garage toward the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hauler, summoned there by officials after one of his cars caused a race-altering caution near the end of Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
In his hand, Baldwin carried a broken part wrapped in a white towel, and said driver David Reutimann did nothing wrong when he stopped on the track with three laps to go in the race.
"He didn't have a choice (to stop)," said Baldwin, who owns the No. 10 car. "The steering broke and he couldn't get on pit road, and about 15 laps before that, he was complaining about the motor. It just happened at the same time. I mean, we just looked at it down there – it won't start, it won't do nothing. There's nothing we could have done."
Reutimann's stalled car at the end of the frontstretch forced NASCAR to wave the yellow flag, which set up a late restart. Leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson then spun out when Clint Bowyer made it three-wide into the first corner, and Ryan Newman ultimately won the race instead.
Baldwin said he knew other teams were upset with Reutimann for stopping on the track, but said it was just an "unfortunate chain of events."
"I hate it, just like everybody else," he said. "We've been in those positions, and if something else happened to us like that, there's just nothing we can do."
Ryan Newman spoiled an afternoon of Hendrick hegemony with an opportunistic victory in the Goody's Fast Relief 500 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
After Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson dominated the action for 497 laps, an untimely caution flag flew on Lap 497 and sent the race to overtime, after David Reutimann stalled on the frontstretch.
Gordon and Johnson stayed out on old tires as the lead-lap cars behind them came to the pits for tires and fuel. On the restart on lap 504, Clint Bowyer took Johnson and Gordon three-wide into the first corner, and all three cars spun, ruining a potential 200th victory party for Hendrick Motorsports.
After the dust settled, Newman cleared runner-up AJ Allmendinger on the second lap of a green-white-checkered-flag restart and held on to win by .342 seconds. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
The victory was Newman's first of the season, his first at Martinsville and the 16th of his career. It was the third win of the year in six events for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Gordon had led 322 laps before Johnson passed him for the top spot on Lap 356. That brought Johnson all the way back from a pit road speeding penalty incurred on Lap 100 under the first caution of the race. Johnson was flagged for speeding on exit and restarted at the tail end of the field.
But with 80 percent of the race ahead of him, the five-time champion had plenty of time to work his way back to the front of the field.
Denny Hamlin beat both Johnson and Gordon off pit road on Lap 363, during pit stops under caution for Travis Kvapil's spin in Turn 2, but Johnson regained the lead on Lap 393, passing Hamlin to the inside through Turns 1 and 2 after dogging the No. 11 Toyota for more than 10 circuits.
Gordon regained the lead on Lap 497 moments before caution slowed the race. The eighth caution for the Bowyer/Gordon/Johnson wreck extended the race to 515 laps, 15 past the scheduled distance.
Here are the NASCAR results from Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway:
Here are some storylines and drivers to watch in today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway:
Closing in on a Milestone
In this race in 1984, Geoff Bodine took a Rick Hendrick-owned car to Victory Lane for the first time. Twenty eight years later, and Hendrick Motorsports is on the cusp of win number 200. Appropriately, that milestone may come at a track where the organization has won at more than any other – 18 times total spread among four drivers (Bodine, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson).
But not all memories at Martinsville are good ones for Hendrick. In 2004, the team owner's son, Ricky, was killed nearby when the plane he was on crashed en route to the track – along with Hendrick's brother, two nieces and six others. Good or bad, Martinsville will always hold a special place in the hearts of everyone associated with Hendrick Motorsports.
Brian Vickers's Redemption Tour Continues
For the first time since his remarkable fifth-place run two weeks ago at Bristol, Brian Vickers is back behind the wheel of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing car. And his return just so happens to coincide with the series returning to Martinsville, where last October Vickers was directly involved in bringing out five of the 18 yellow flags, one which entailed him intentionally wrecking championship contender Matt Kenseth.
Now with a little time and some perspective, Vickers is ready to put those tumultuous events behind him and hopes others can do the same. Another good result like he had at Bristol will go a long way to do just that.
To Thrive, You Must Survive
At Martinsville where beating and banging and sometimes blatantly wrecking a competitor is a way of life, to finish first, one must first finish. Because of the tight confines, wrecks happen frequently often involving multiple cars. With drivers not afraid of using their bumpers, they have to be weary of caving in the nose of their car and thus preventing their engine from cooling properly.
And it's not just their fenders and noses a driver has to be protective of, as throughout the afternoon you will hear many a crew chief warn his driver to save the brakes, a key element to success at Martinsville due the track's long straights and tight corners.
• Kevin Harvick, who won this race last year, will be making his 400th career Sprint Cup start this afternoon.
• Points leader Greg Biffle has scored just two top-10s in 18 career Martinsville starts with a best finish of seventh.
• Tony Stewart will be wheeling the same chassis he won here with last fall, but in practice the defending Sprint Cup champion struggled to find speed and qualified 15th.
• Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have combined to win 16 of the last 18 Martinsville races.
1. Denny Hamlin
Anytime Denny Hamlin rolls into Martinsville, he is the man to beat – and with him qualifying third, it's apparent the speed is once again there for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. And the numbers the native Virginian has amassed at Martinsville – four wins, nine top-fives and 11 top-10s in 13 starts – speak volumes.
2. Jeff Gordon
It's been seven years since Jeff Gordon was awarded a Grandfather Clock, but after pacing both sessions of practice on Friday, the active Martinsville wins leader appears poised to score victory number eight this afternoon.
3. Kevin Harvick
In qualifying yesterday, Kevin Harvick clocked in the second-fastest time and when the defending winner of the Goody's Fast Relief 500 qualifies well, he typically runs well. This afternoon, there is no reason to think he won't be in contention to make it two in a row.
I'm not certain Dale Earnhardt Jr. technically qualifies as a sleeper, but then again he hasn't won a race in almost four years – so maybe he does. Regardless, pay attention to NASCAR's most popular driver, who finished second and seventh here last year and has eight top-10s in his last 12 starts on the giant paperclip.
Baseball has Wrigley field, football has Lambeau Field and basketball has Madison Square Garden. Those magical iconic places that take you back to the sport's roots, when everything seemed much simpler.
For NASCAR, that place is Martinsville Speedway.
Seeing a race at Martinsville is like stepping into a time machine and going back to an era when the NASCAR schedule mainly consisted of races on bullring tracks throughout the southeast, and drivers regularly battled with their bumpers on the track and with their fists off of it.
Today, on the half-mile paperclip-shaped track famous for its hard racing and pink hot dogs, we will add a chapter to the Martinsville saga that began in 1949.
Adding to that narrative is over the years, great drivers have used Martinsville as a way to flex their superiority.
From Richard Petty and Fred Lorenzen going to Victory Lane a combined 14 times in the 60s, to Cale Yarborough winning four races in five starts in the 70s, to Darrell Waltrip dominating in the 80s, followed by Rusty Wallace owning the early to mid-90s, to Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson and winning 16 of the last 18, Martinsville is not track that rewards the average driver.
To be considered great, a victory at Martinsville is a must on a driver's resumé.
"It's just different," Hamlin said during his Friday media session. "I don't know what it is and why some drivers struggle or why some drivers are better. I know why the drivers that are better, why they're better, but I'm not going to say that and tell you why.
"It's just a tough race track to figure out. Even though it's as small as it is, there are so many little things you can do to have good speed and have good speed over the long run here. It's hard to teach that."
This brings us back to the current Four Kings of Martinsville – Gordon, Stewart, Hamlin and Johnson. Three of the four are multi-time Sprint Cup champions, while Hamlin came painstakingly close to winning his first Cup title in 2010.
While it may be Kevin Harvick who enters this weekend as the defending winner of the Goody's Fast Relief 500, with all due respect to him, Sunday will likely end up being about the Four Kings.
For Stewart, he's looking to continue what has been the best start to his career, as the owner/driver has won two of the first five races in 2012 and dating back to last year and seven of the last 15 – including a victory here last October.
Another win and the defending Sprint Cup champion will be well on his way to securing a high seed in this year's Chase as he attempts to win back-to-back titles.
Winning used to be a word commonly associated with Johnson. Lately it's been a rarity for the man who from 2006-10 won five consecutive championships.
With just one victory in the past 33 races, questions have arisen as to whether something is amiss with the 48 team. But Johnson is having none of it.
"Growing up in racing, I didn't have this kind of success until I got to the Cup level," Johnson said. "It's not that I was ever happy with not winning, but you just learn how to deal with your emotions and you learn how to learn from experiences and get better and stronger at it. But nothing is eating at me.
"Right now I'm very optimistic about our season. I have not paid attention to a stat or a number since our last win. I feel that we're knocking on the door and we're running on the race track where we should, and up front, and that's going to give us chance to win."
His teammate at Hendrick Motorsports has far different concerns.
Not only is Gordon not winning, he's been riddled with bad luck. First, a blown motor while in the top five in the season-opening Daytona 500, then later wrecking at Bristol after contact with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. In between the bouts of ill fortune, Gordon has struggled to find the handle on his Chevrolet.
And while a win today would be wonderful on a variety of levels, more than anything it will go a long way to help Gordon climb out of the points hole in which he finds himself, as the active Martinsville leader in wins (seven) sits a woeful 25th in the driver standings.
"Right now it is just about putting the whole race together," Gordon said Saturday at Martinsville. "It's about having the car that we need and then making sure that we don't make mistakes.
"I don't think we are that far away from winning races I will be honest. I think we just have to eliminate the mistakes and we have a lot of races left to be able to pull that off."
Unlike the other kings, Hamlin's reasons for wanting to win are far more personal. The Virginia native grew up watching races and later competing on the legendary half-mile as he worked his way up the NASCAR ladder.
All of which explains why he thrives racing in front of his home state fans on a track in which he's visited the winner's circle on four occasions, including a stretch where he won three in a row.
"When we come here, obviously we expect to win and we feel like we can every time we come in through the tunnel," Hamlin said. "It's always been a great race track for us. Even the times where it shows we finished bad, I know that we led at some point during that day and we were competitive.
"Really, based off our performances, this is definitely our best race track that we're coming to."
If you're skilled enough to collect a Martinsville checkered flag, a prize befitting a king is awaiting you in Victory Lane: A handcrafted Grandfather Clock
"Absolutely, who doesn't want one?," Gordon said. "It's a great trophy and it's a great race track. You have to work hard. You put yourself in a good position to win this race and it's a challenge from the first time you are on the track all the way to the final lap of the race. It is certainly not easy to get those clocks."
The same statement could have easily been declared by Stewart, Hamlin or Johnson. The only catch is there is just one Grandfather Clock to be awarded to Sunday's victor.
No joke about it: Weather is not a concern for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race today at Martinsville Speedway. Winds will be generally light with plenty of sunshine and very comfortable temperatures.
High pressure will be in control and skies will be mostly sunny with just a few clouds. Slightly cooler temperatures with highs in the low-to-mid-70s. This is not an April Fools' joke: Rain or weather will not determine the outcome of today's race.
10:00 a.m. EDT
Pre Race Sprint Cup – Sunshine and clouds – temp: 58
11:00 a.m. EDT
Pre Race Sprint Cup – Mostly sunny – temp: 63
12:00 p.m. EDT
Pre Race Sprint Cup – Mostly sunny – temp: 65
1:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly sunny – temp: 68
It's NASCAR race day at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's race for you below.
What time does the race start today? Richard Petty will be the grand marshal for today's race and will give the command to fire engines at 1:08 p.m. EDT. Actor Gary Sinise was originally scheduled to be the grand marshal, but he was injured in a car accident on Friday (not seriously) and had to bow out. After the cars get rolling, wounded veteran J.B. Kerns will wave the green flag at 1:14 p.m. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, turn on your TV set by 1:14 p.m. Eastern time.
Race name/distance: Martinsville is NASCAR's shortest track (even shorter than Bristol), measuring at .526 miles. The "500" in the "Goody's Fast Relief 500" refers to the number of laps – thankfully, not miles. The total distance is 263 miles.
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on FOX. Every Sprint Cup Series race through May will be on the FOX network. Unfortunately, there is no live streaming of the race – but you can listen on the Motor Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check MRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.
National anthem: The Virginia Tech Regimental Band known as the "Highty Tighties" – a nickname that sounds way too close to "tighty whities" – will do the national anthem honors today.
Tickets: Martinsville is not a sellout. If you want to make a last-minute trip to the track today, you shouldn't have a problem finding tickets.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's race will be rain-free and pleasant with temperatures in the mid-70s. All things considered, it's shaping up to be one of the nicest Martinsville races in years.
Last time: Kevin Harvick denied Dale Earnhardt Jr. a streak-ending win one year ago in the Goody's Fast Relief 500; in October, Tony Stewart showed his Chase run was for real with a stirring win in the fall Martinsville race.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway:
Is Kasey Kahne the new Rocket Man?
Ryan "Rocket Man" Newman has long held the reputation of being NASCAR's fastest qualifier in the Chase era, but another pole position for Kahne on Saturday might mean the newest Hendrick Motorsports driver needs a nickname of his own.
Kahne won the pole for Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, his second pole position of the season and 18th since the start of the 2006 season – a series high among all drivers.
"Feels good," Kahne told SPEED after his lap. "I've qualified decent Martinsville before, but never a pole. ... I was able to pull it off, barely."
Though Newman still has the most poles in the Chase era (31), Kahne now has 24, which is tied with Jimmie Johnson for second.
Kevin Harvick qualified second on Saturday at the track nearest to his home, followed by race favorite Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Newman.
J.J. Yeley, Scott Speed and Mike Bliss failed to make the Martinsville field on time, but Tony Raines' qualifying time was disallowed for being too low in inspection – meaning Yeley got in the race after all.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway:
As evidenced by him sitting 27th in the Sprint Cup standings and not having finished better than 14th, it has no doubt been a trying year for Kasey Kahne in his first season driving for Hendrick Motorsports.
In effort to jumpstart his season, Kahne will be working with a new spotter in Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Out is old spotter Kole Kahne – Kasey's cousin – and in his place is Shannon McGlamery, the former spotter for Kahne's teammate Jeff Gordon.
This is a decision that weighed heavily on Kasey Kahne's mind since an incident two weeks ago at Bristol, when miscommunication between driver and spotter triggered a multi-car incident which saw Kahne suffer heavy damage and end the day in 37th place.
"I would say it is something I wanted to do different," Kahne said Friday at Martinsville. "I was a little unpleased after California. We are just looking at something for a couple of weeks. We are going to see after Texas. We are going to sit down and decide if that is the direction I want to go or if I feel comfortable with Kole doing it again or what.
"I'm going to wait. I'm going to do two weeks with someone else and then decide after Texas what I want to do."
As is the case when family is involved, this wasn't an easy call to make. But after a sour start to the year, every point is critical if Kahne is to work his way back into Chase contention.
"I've worked with family since I started," Kahne said. "We have had ups and downs over the years, and sometimes maybe things don't seem right at first, but they've always seemed to work out. Everything has always seemed to work out for us.
"We (will) figure out what is best for all of us and go on and make it work."
Mother Nature is expected to play nice this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The only weather concern we have is for possible scattered rain showers and isolated storms Saturday. Weather WILL NOT be a factor for Sunday's Sprint Cup race.
Weak storm system will push through the Ohio Valley dragging a cold front across western Virginia on Saturday. This could result in a few scattered showers or isolated storms during the morning and possibly the afternoon. The threat is low but because there is no way to know where a storm or shower may pop up, it could only take one to delay or threaten any of the days activities.
Sunday's Sprint Cup race is much better. High pressure builds in behind the cold front giving way to mostly sunny skies, light winds and high temperatures in the low 70s.
10:00 a.m. EDT
Camping World Truck qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of isolated storm or shower – temp: 65
11:30 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of isolated storm or shower – temp: 70
1:30 p.m. EDT
Camping World truck race – Partly sunny, chance of isolated storm or shower – temp: 73
1:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 70
The best stretch of racing Tony Stewart has ever experienced was in 1995 when he was running USAC cars – at least according to Stewart.
That was the year Stewart won USAC's "Triple Crown," which consists of national titles in Silver Crown cars, Sprint cars and Midget cars.
So when Stewart says his recent streak is nearly as good as the Triple Crown year, it means the driver feels really good about how well things are going.
"I don't feel like we're far off that (1995 run) right now," Stewart said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. "This is the best I've run in NASCAR as far as a long, consistent run like this."
Stewart has won seven of the last 15 Sprint Cup Series races dating to the 2011 Chase opener at Chicagoland. That stretch included an incredible Chase finale – in which Stewart came from behind to beat Carl Edwards for the championship – and a surprising offseason crew chief change.
"I think our group here has done a great job and I just feel like I am always in that race mode," he said. "I am always running something, but it makes it good when you come on a weekend and the cars are driving good and that's been that way since Chicago of last year all the way through now."
Stewart, who turns 41 in May, said he knows his winning streak won't last forever.
"That hard part is, you don't want it to end," he said. "You want it to stay like this."
The former Kevin Harvick Inc. NASCAR team won a combined 53 races, two driver championships and one Truck Series owner championship.
But Harvick's days as owner came to an end last fall when Harvick and his wife DeLana – who ran the organization on a day-to-day basis – announced they were selling the Nationwide portion of KHI to Harvick's Cup owner Richard Childress and the Truck Series teams to Eddie Sharp.
So does Harvick miss owning a team?
"It really hasn't even been on my mind at all," Harvick said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. "...There are a lot of things going on and I really haven't missed it at all and I really underestimated how big of a relief it would actually be. It's been great."
But don't think for a second just because Harvick's been divested of being a NASCAR owner he now has all this extra time on his hands.
The man who's finished third in the Sprint Cup Series point standings for the past two years has been tasked with an even bigger responsibility: Baby-proofing his house for the forthcoming arrival of the Harvicks' first child, which is due mid-summer.
"Right now, they're working on nurseries and playrooms, and the backyard has been completely dismantled and it's a pile of dirt now," Harvick said. "We've taken out swimming pools and all kinds of stuff working in that direction. Everything from baby gates to dingers on elevators to you name it, a lot has been changed. It's been fun."
So far, the home improvement projects haven't proven to be a distraction for Harvick. Through five races, he has posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes, and as a result finds himself second in points heading into Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 – which Harvick won a year ago after completing a pass of Dale Earnhardt Jr. with five laps to go.
Being just a driver and nothing else is a role Harvick seems to be relishing, and there are no regrets of giving up something he worked so hard to build.
"To be able to unwind and take your mind off of what's going on at the race track is something you really couldn't do outside of the race track, because there is always something happening on the team ownership side and it will swallow you up really fast if you let your guard down," Harvick said.
Even if you can't remember who won last October's Martinsville race (it was Tony Stewart, by the way), you probably remember Brian Vickers being involved in five cautions – including a spat with Chase contender Matt Kenseth.
Vickers was a wrecking ball that day, and many have speculated his Martinsville performance may have hurt his chances at landing a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride this season.
But coming off a top-five run at Bristol two weeks ago, Vickers was back at Martinsville on Friday to drive Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 car.
And as for the bad memories from last year's race? Vickers said they're all behind him.
"Obviously, I didn't make the best decisions of my career," Vickers said. "But ultimately at the end of the day Matt wrecked me going into (Turn) 3 and I wrecked him back. It's happened a lot through the sport of NASCAR and big time auto racing.
"My goal this year is for that to go away – for that to becoming a non-issue ... so that when we're back here in the next race we're talking a great run at Martinsville and everybody completely forgets about the other one."
Will Kenseth be able to forget? The Roush Fenway Racing driver said yes and added, "That's all in the past."
"I think if you're sitting there worrying about that stuff and thinking about it, you're certainly not giving your best effort to try and get the best finish that you can," Kenseth said. "So I think that's all water under the bridge and you move forward from there."
Michael Waltrip, who hired Vickers for eight races this year (his seat for the two road course races was just announced Friday), said the driver's Martinsville showing didn't cause MWR any hesitation when deciding who to hire.
"Brian's body of work has never been about wrecking people or running over people," Waltrip said. "Things happen at Martinsville that lead to contact and people get mad. That certainly never was any part of the consideration MWR had about hiring Brian, because that doesn't define who he is."
John Wes Townley will climb into a race truck this morning for his first official NASCAR action since Sept. 2010, but before doing so he met with reporters to apologize for his recent DUI arrest.
"This is something I'm really serious about as an individual," he said Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway. "What happened that night, I take full responsibility for it. I don't want it reflected poorly on my team, my sponsors, and I want to sincerely apologize."
Townley crashed his 2012 BMW into a telephone pole in the early morning hours of Feb. 7, then showed up bleeding and disoriented at a nearby home and was arrested.
RAB Racing, his Camping World Truck Series team, suspended him for one Truck race. NASCAR put him on probation for the rest of the year and will test him frequently for alcohol.
Asked if he had a drinking problem (the DUI was Townley's second alcohol-related incident), the driver said he wasn't sure because he was being evaluated.
"I don't know the answer as far as the problem goes," he said. "Going forward, I'm sure I'll learn that and we'll go from there."
Townley said he was drinking with friends on the night of his arrest and returned home, but had to get up early the next morning to get fitted for a seat at the RAB Racing shop. The driver said it was a foggy morning and he ran off the road into a pole, then knocked on the door of a nearby residence because he'd left his cell phone at home.
"This was just a horrible lack of judgment on my part," he said of drinking and driving. "... I could have injured people, I could have hurt people really bad. It's really selfish of me."
Aside from the DUI arrest, Townley's return to NASCAR is noteworthy because of his lengthy layoff.
Townley had left NASCAR abruptly, failing to show up on the morning of the Sept. 2010 Nationwide Series race at Richmond without explanation.
Looking back now, the driver said he needed to reevaluate how he felt about racing and his life in general.
"I didn't really know where I was at the time," he said. "I just needed that time to step back and re-think what I wanted out of life. Coming back into it, I really just wanted to give it another shot. I certainly didn't want to leave it the way I left it. I really wanted to get back into it and show some people that I can really perform out there."
In the time since he last raced, Townley said he's mostly just been "taking it easy a little bit" to help figure out what he wanted to do.
"I know now that stepping back from (racing) forever is not the answer," he said. "I found out halfway through the off-year that this is something I need to get back doing, because I just wasn't happy without it."
Townley said his dream has always been to "become one of the big guys out there in the Cup Series," and he's not ready to let go of that hope yet.
"All the hardships I may have to face to get there, it's worth keeping it up," he said.
The two most dominant drivers in recent memory at Martinsville Speedway are still smarting from last season's uncharacteristic Victory Lane shutout. If the 2011 blanking has made Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson even more motivated, the rest of the field could be in trouble.
Hamlin and Johnson will get their chance to scratch the win column again when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its first stop of the year at its shortest track for the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 (FOX, 1 p.m. ET).
The two drivers combined to win every event in a nine-race span from 2006 to 2010 at Martinsville; Johnson won five, Hamlin four. That changed last season.
Kevin Harvick won this race last April as both Hamlin and Johnson finished just outside the top 10. Both rebounded for top-five finishes at Martinsville in the fall, but victory narrowly eluded Johnson when Tony Stewart bypassed him for a statement-making win on the way to his third title.
"I certainly want to get back to my winning ways there," Johnson said. "But at a minimum, we always end up with a real strong finish. When I think of how close we were to victory last fall . . . it didn't happen, but we led a lot of laps and was a factor in the end."
For Johnson, there's extra motivation for a milestone victory. The next win by Hendrick Motorsports -- winless so far in 2012 -- will be the team's 200th.
For Hamlin, an extra edge may come in the form of Darian Grubb, who manned the pit box for Stewart's Martinsville win last October. The new driver-crew chief combination has already produced one victory for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team this season, lifting Hamlin to seventh in the Sprint Cup standings.
Hamlin hasn't lacked for confidence at many points in his career, but exuded it with a bold Tuesday tweet: "If you are wondering who to pick in fantasy this weekend . . . choose 11."
KING OF TRUCKS BACK AT IT AFTER LONG LAYOFF
John King has been living like royalty for five weeks now. That's how long it's been since his surprise victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
The truck tour resumes Saturday (SPEED, 1 p.m. ET) with the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway, the second race of the young season.
For King, it's been a longer wait than most. On the heels of his Daytona win, he was eager to get back on the track the following Monday. Despite King's extra anticipation, the time off did have a nice side benefit.
"It's pretty cool the be the points leader for five weeks," said King, who will turn 24 the day after Saturday's race. "For five weeks, I've turned on SPEED and watched 'Race Hub' and seen my name scroll across the bottom of the screen -- pretty wild."
King finished 19th in his only truck start at Martinsville, in 2010, but has competed at the .526-mile track in Late Model competition. He says he'll lean heavily on the experience of Red Horse Racing teammate Timothy Peters, a former Martinsville winner and resident of nearby Danville, Va.
"He's in a sense, almost a short-track king," King said. "I've picked his brain a lot already and I'm going to pick it a lot more, too, this week."
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