Sunday’s running of the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 from Martinsville looked as if it was going to be the race that would give Hendrick Motorsports its 200th win in the Cup series. The race had been dominated by HMS drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as Gordon led 328 laps and Johnson was on the point for 112 laps, but in racing it is all about the driver that leads the all important last lap .
Hendrick and his four-team operation, that also includes drivers Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr., last went to victory lane on October 9 of last year with Johnson. Sunday unfolded as what looked like the day for the milestone victory as Kahne sat on the pole to begin the race and Earnhardt Jr. joined Gordon and Johnson as one of the drivers to lead the race.
It was coming down to a showdown between Johnson and Gordon with only three laps remaining when the caution flag came out when David Reutimann’s Chevrolet stopped on the track. The sight of the stalled car raised some questions about why Reutimann didn’t get the car off the track in the closing laps or why NASCAR didn’t order him to come in. Reutimann’s explanation was that he and his team are trying to get be one of the teams in the top 35 in owner’s points and have the guarantee of a starting position at the next race.
Regardless of why Reutimann was still on the track, the caution period extended the race and set up another green-white-checkered flag finish on lap 504. Johnson and Gordon did not pit during the caution, but the rest of the field still on the lead lap came in for tires hoping it would make a difference once the green flag waved.
On the restart, Johnson and Gordon were all set to battle between themselves for the win, but Clint Bowyer decided to make it three wide as they entered in the first turn. The result of Bowyer’s move had all three cars spinning out and in the process put an end to any 200-win celebration by Hendrick Motorsports for the day.
The spin opened the door for Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger to slug it out for the victory, but Allmendinger refused to use his bumper on Newman and the result was the first victory of the year for Newman. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up carrying the flag for Hendrick as he finished third on the day. Johnson finished as the last car on the lead lap in the 12th spot, while Gordon ran out of fuel during the overtime period and finished one lap down in 14th.
Earnhardt’s third-place finish moved him up one spot in the standings to second, only six points behind the leader Greg Biffle. He leads the Hendrick drivers in the standings as Johnson is the only other HMS driver in the Chase field for now and sits in 10th. Gordon finds himself in the 21st slot and Kahne, who is in his first year with HMS, has gotten off to a miserable start to the season that has him in the 31st position.
Newman’s win was the first of the season for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver and made him the fifth different winner this season. Only his teammate/owner Tony Stewart has more than one win on the season and leads the series with a pair of trips to victory lane. The win also gave Chevrolet its third victory of the season, but Ford, Toyota and Dodge have each made a trip to victory lane during the early part of the schedule.
PIT NOTES: The Sprint Cup Series schedule was tweaked this year as the early season open date was removed, making this weekend’s open date the first one of the season. The Easter break comes at a good time for teams that have gotten off to rough starts, and that list includes some big names. Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Jamie Mc- Murray and Kyle Busch have already put themselves in a position of having to play catch up as the series moves into the spring and summer portions of the schedule. When the series resumes in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway, it will begin a 14-week stretch of races that includes the annual Sprint All-Star race in Charlotte as well as 13 points races.
Event: Samsung Mobile 500
Track: Texas Motor Speedway
(1.5-mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: April 14, 7:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Matt