The Chase and the Chased: High Drama in NASCAR
While only .526-miles in length – complete with 12-degree banks – Martinsville Speedway in Virginia may be the smallest track on in the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, but it’s history is larger than life. Created in 1947 by H. Clay Earles, Martinsville hosted its first true NACAR race on July 4, 1948, the track knows as the “paperclip” in the only track to have been on NASCAR’s premier schedule since 1948. Martinsville, yet again, lived up to its storied history and heritage on Sunday as in a late lap showdown, Tony Stewart gingerly motored around Jimmie Johnson on a restart with three laps left in Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500. He then held off the reigning Sprint Cup Champion Johnson’s charge for victory on the white flag lap to win. The victory was Stewart’s third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and vaulted him into second place in the standings, eight points behind leader Carl Edwards. Stewart won for the 42nd time in his career.
“He’d better be worried,” Stewart said of Edwards after the race, “that’s all I can say. He’s not going to have an easy three weeks.”
Amazingly, after twice being lapped on the race track, Edwards salvaged a decent run and retained his lead in the Chase standings with a ninth-place finish, as his two closest pursuers entering the race, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski, both experienced late trouble and finished 31st and 17th, respectively.
Jeff Gordon ran third, followed by Kevin Harvick, who climbed to third in the standings, 21 points behind Edwards. Denny Hamlin came home fifth, with Jeff Burton sixth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh.
After a wild first half of the race had settled into a 97-lap green-flag run after the midpoint, Hamlin squeezed past Gordon on Lap 320 and stayed out front in traffic until Burton’s spin caused the 10th caution of the race.
That started a spate of cautions that gave Harvick and Stewart a chance to move to the front with two-tire calls — and allowed Edwards to return to the lead lap under the 12th caution with a free pass for the highest-scored car one lap down.