By: Ashley McCubbin
A traffic jam, some bumps, and good ‘ol hard racing with some passing allowed Martinsville Speedway to give every short track fan a taste of what they love to watch.
Although you do not want to see tires blister and cause problems for drivers, fans have demanded for rubber that fades away over the course of a run. That was the case on Sunday as even after just 20 laps, you could see the difference between the used and fresh Goodyears.
Denny Hamlin knew how to master the short run – speed right off the drop of the green flag with ability to corner and give himself a gap over whoever was the competition. However, as you got 25 laps in the books, it seemed to fade away with the No. 11 struggling to roll the center of the corner. As a result, he was wheeled back in and ultimately passed on each occasion.
Martin Truex Jr. was tasked with the job at the end of the event, and able to do just that in textbook style. Instead of using the aggressive maneuver everybody is used to with a bump and run, he rolled to his side and moved him up out of the groove ever so slightly to get the run off the corner.
The ability to watch drivers string out early, followed by drivers finding their groove at the end is why tires that fade are the perfect match. Combined with a track that allows you the ability to pass – just ask Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch who made great comebacks, and you have the perfect recipe for success.
Truex knows what is about, now becoming the first driver to win multiple events in a season. Considering he won at Martinsville and Phoenix which are the last two races on the 2021 calendar, you have to consider him a possible championship favorite in knowing what’s possible come November.
That said, the No. 19 probably would not have found victory lane if it wasn’t for a critical penalty by Ryan Blaney. The Team Penske competitor had the strongest car all day long, and was able to find his way to the lead every long run. However, running over the air hose on his final stop resulted in being sent to the tail of the field, forcing him to spend the final laps driving his way back to 11th.
Alex Bowman may also have shaped up to be a contender, progressively getting stronger with each lap around the speedway despite self-proclaiming the paperclip is not his cup of tea. However, a loose wheel with an unscheduled trip down pit road put him deep in the field, resulting in getting caught in the 15-car incident on the backstretch.
Ah yes, like any short track there was contact, and cautions with a lot of unhappy people. However, let’s face it – that’s part of being in close quarters. It’s part of the territory, and at least didn’t prove to shine through the final laps in allowing them a run to the checkered.
Another trend that continued was seeing the same familiar teams up front – Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, and Joe Gibbs Racing. Despite the diversity of winners, each team continues to place drivers at the front of the field and made up the entire top-10 through the first stage.
By the checkered flag, the three organizations swept the top-seven, taking up eight of the top-10. As has been the case at other times in 2021, Penske showed promise of having a driver contend for the win (Blaney and Joey Logano), but was not part of the discussion for the victory when it counted. Blaney had the aforementioned penalty, with Logano’s handling faded to sixth and Keselowski found himself not in the equation all day long ultimately placing 33rd.
Will this trend continue moving forward? That’s a question that will certainly be asked heading to and leaving Richmond Raceway for the next event.