Making the Grade- Martinsville Spring Edition
After each NASCAR Sprint Cup race weekend I hand out one grade for each letter grade and a review of the television broadcast and event too. Race fans seldom agree with my opinion but it is hard to get 10 race fans to agree on whether it is partly cloudy or mostly sunny most days. Let’s get the red marker out and grade the race at Martinsville Speedway.
And now on with the show…
Race Grade: A-
This might not have been the most artistic race in the history of NASCAR with 16 cautions for a total of 112 laps but this was old school NASCAR racing all the way. Martinsville never allows the leader to get away for long because sooner or later the leader will be mired in traffic as the slower cars fight to stay on the lead lap. There is only one fast way around the “Paper Clip” and taking some power away from the cars just accentuated that this year. There were 15 green flag passes for the lead which is the highest for the season. Please do not think about shortening this race part of what makes winning the Ridgeway Clock so special is that a driver has to survive 1000 turns!
Television Broadcast: B
The Fox Sports 1 cameras seemed to get infatuated with some battles back in the pack and occasionally they were late showing us the battle up front although in their defense they seldom missed a lead change. There is so much going on at a tight ½ mile track like Martinsville we can give them the benefit of the doubt a little. But the announcers were not on their best game missing when a few drivers suddenly started falling back in the pack after being strong earlier in the race.
F for Ricky Stenhouse Jr
NASCAR might need to impose a three spin rule like that at short tracks all over the country! Sometimes a driver fails to get into the rhythm at a track like this and gets in the way and gets smacked out of the way. This time around with Danica’s guy he was very good at spinning on his own too.
D for Matt Kenseth’s Restart Decision
Tune into the Thunder Crew on Tuesday night at 8pm ET to hear Mike “SOZ Man” Harper go off on how yet another NASCAR driver is being too nice to letting someone have an advantage on the race track. When Kenseth lined up on the outside on a restart with just 65 laps to go I thought I was wrong on who was leading the race. Yes Jeff Gordon was going to let you in but that was THE car to beat at the time and hanging him on the outside in traffic was the correct move. Stop being so nice or you will lose the “Matt the Brat” monicker!
D for Jeff Gordon’s Speeding Penalty
Was Chase Elliott already in the 24 car? Jeff Gordon getting caught speeding on pit lane with just 40 laps to go was one of the worst mistakes I have seen in years by a NASCAR driver. This was a rookie mistake by a driver who is on the short list of “Greatest of All Time in NASCAR.” Maybe in the old NASCAR he would have gotten away with this but in this day and age of computerized timing down to the millisecond it doesn’t make sense to take a chance like that when you are leading the race.
C for Tony Stewart
Has the greatest “All Around” racer in our generation suddenly become a middle of the road driver? The only way we saw Tony Stewart out front at a track he is always great was when they decided to stay out during a caution flag on old tires. We got to see our man Smoke stay up front and battle hard for a few laps before inevitably fading back to where he was hanging out all day from 15th to 20th in the running order while one of his company car’s was finishing 7th with Danica Patrick driving.
B for Danica Patrick
Martinsville Speedway has always been a good track for Danica Patrick. Here first race here when she was struggling every where else she finished on the lead lap in 12th place. But this time around she not only held on for a strong finish but she was moving forward at the end of the race even in the middle of the chaotic restarts that usually cost her positions when she starts driving too conservatively. Even more impressive is that she beat her teammate Kevin Harvick who had a record tying streak of top two finishes going!
A for Denny Hamlin
This might have been the most impressive of the twenty five wins in Denny Hamlin’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career. First the team was penalized for yet another uncontrolled tire violation that sent him to the back of the pack about one third of the way into the race. After battling back to the front his pit crew had a somewhat slow stop at the mid point in the race that cost him several spots. Instead of becoming overly “Fustated” and forcing the issue with too many dangerous passes Hamlin took his time to make his move. After getting back to the front again with 100 laps to go the team had another somewhat slow pit stop and Denny brake checked to maintain an inside slot for the restart. His final dash to the front was quite thrilling and he closed out this impressive win in style. His drifting style burnout was one of the best in years too!