Kyle Busch cleaned everyone’s clock at Martinsville
Pardon the pun. But at Martinsville Speedway – a track known for its famous grandfather clock trophy – Kyle Busch cleaned everyone’s clock. And he didn’t just do it once. He did it twice. A day after leading 123 of 255 laps for his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumph at the fabled paperclip-shaped oval, Busch stomped the field into submission by leading 352 of 500 laps en route to his first Sprint Cup Series triumph at Martinsville. Pretty impressive for a guy who prior to this past weekend had been shut out of Victory Lane in a combined 30 starts at Martinsville across NASCAR’s top three series. It’s also impressive given the fact that Busch hadn’t led a single lap in his past two Cup outings at the Virginia short track.
Hamlin proves Martinsville can beat up on the best
As a five-time Sprint Cup Series race winner at Martinsville and easily one of NASCAR’s top short-track drivers, Denny Hamlin arrived at Martinsville on the shortlist of favorites to go to Victory Lane. Instead, the native of Chesterfield, Virginia saw his day end prematurely with a hard crash into the outside wall that was the result of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota wheel-hopping on Lap 221 of 500. Hamlin placed 39th among 40 drivers, failing to finish in an event where he was the defending race winner. What does Hamlin’s day at Martinsville illustrate? That even those who have demonstrated a knack for navigating the .526-mile oval are prone to mess up big here every once in awhile.
Short tracks help even the playing field
If anyone claims he correctly picked the top five finishers at Martinsville, you can be assured of one thing: He’s lying. While Kyle Busch’s commanding victory wasn’t all that huge of a surprise, his closest pursuers at the finish were. Coming home second was JTG Daughter Racing’s AJ Allmendinger, a driver who prior to Sunday had seven top-five finishes in 268 career Sprint Cup starts. Just behind the ‘Dinger at the checkered flag was Kyle Larson, whose best finish in five previous races this season was seventh at Daytona. Meanwhile, Austin Dillon – one of the season’s most pleasant surprises – continued his impressive start by placing a season-best fourth. Conclusion? Martinsville, a track where aerodynamics matter little, narrows the playing field between the top teams and everyone else.
Brian Vickers still has what it takes
One of the most feel-good stories of Sunday’s race was the seventh-place finish of Brian Vickers, who was making his fourth start as a substitute driver for Tony Stewart in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Chevrolet. Vickers, who has been sidelined by health complications multiple times over the past few years, had finished no better than 13th as Stewart’s fill-in. But Vickers was strong all weekend at Martinsville, where he qualified third and then performed solidly in the race. While it remains to be seen how many more starts Vickers will get in the No. 14, it was good to see him competitive again, and his Martinsville result should serve as a shot in the arm for both the driver and the team moving forward.
Aero package has changed little at the top
Despite all the good that has already come from the Sprint Cup Series’ new low-downforce aerodynamic package, the first six races of the 2016 season prove that little has changed in terms of consistent frontrunners. The five drivers to find Victory Lane this year – Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – have all been among the sport’s most dominant drivers of the past decade. Of the top 11 drivers in the standings, only seventh-place Austin Dillon failed to make last year’s 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. The crux of the matter? While the new aero package has made the racing more exciting and competitive, it hasn’t made any notable impact on the sport’s haves and have-nots.