Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, VA — April 10, 2021
The NASCAR Cup Series is scheduled to make its first start under the lights at Martinsville Speedway. Since 1949 the series has made 144 starts at the famed half-mile “paper-clip,” all during the daytime. But, at race time the only vehicles on the track were the jet dryers.
Scheduled for 500 laps with stages of 130/130/240 laps, Joey Logano(22) sits on the pole with Denny Hamlin(11) starting beside him. The race managed to take the green flag, just a couple of hours behind schedule.
Logano drove off into Turn 1 with the lead but it was short-lived. Hamlin took over the top spot and held onto it until the race was red-flagged for rain after just 42 laps. Although the track was dry at the start, the race began under a fine mist. When James Davison(15) spun off the bumper of Cody Ware(51) in Turn 4 on Lap 36 the caution came out.
Before the race could be restarted, the rain returned and soaked the track. The red flag displayed after 42 laps and the race gave way to showers for the remainder of the evening.
After the Xfinity Race completed their event, which was rain-delayed from Friday, the track was well rubbered up and set for the Cup Series restart shortly after 4 pm Sunday. Hamlin retained the lead as the race went back to green.
Kurt Busch(1) and Erik Jones(43) collided racing side-by-side for position and Busch went spinning on Lap 50 bringing out the caution again. NASCAR had scheduled a competition caution for Lap 60, but with the early incident Saturday night they scrapped that scheduled service and let crews refuel their cars during the overnight stoppage. So no takers on the Busch caution, everyone looked to maintain their track position.
Ryan Blaney(12) drove past Hamlin on Lap 76 and held the position for the Stage 1 win.
Stage 1 Results
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||8|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Blaney and Hamlin led the field back to green, Hamlin prevailed in the one-lap heat race for the top spot. Blaney, Martin Truex Jr.(19), William Byron(24), and Kyle Busch(18) made up the Top 5.
As more laps were put on the fresh tires, Blaney’s car came to life and Hamlin faded. New leader on Lap 175, Blaney back to the front. Ware blew a right rear tire with 20 laps to go in the stage bringing out the caution just as the pole sitter, Joey Logano, was about to go a lap down. All the leaders took the opportunity to pit for fresh tires.
Again, it’s Blaney and Hamlin leading to the restart.
With 10 laps to go, Ryan Newman(6) got loose in Turn 2. Matt DiBenedetto(21) tore up the right front of his car after making contact with the left side of Newman’s machine.
Two laps remain in the stage when the race resumes. Blaney holds off Hamlin by half a car length for the Stage win, despite a “bump and run” attempt by the 11 car off Turn 4. Stage-ending pit stops are a mixed bag as some teams choose to come in for service, while others stay on the track.
Stage 2 Results
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||8|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Hamlin and Brad Keselowski(2) lead the field to begin the final stage. As drivers settle into position Byron, Kurt Busch, and Logano complete the Top 5. Blaney chose to pit at the end of Stage 2 and restarted back in the pack.
Multiple cautions to start the Final Stage scrambled the line-up further. Bubba Wallace(23), Newman, Daniel Suarez(99), Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), and Chris Buescher(17) take a turn at the front with just over 200 laps to go.
Three wide racing resulted as cars with fresher tires mixed it up with those that did not pit. Wallace led for 23 laps, Byron went to the front for 7 laps, then Kyle Busch spun and the caution brought everyone to pit road for fresh Goodyear tires. After pit stops, Hamlin was back out front. Byron, Newman, Alex Bowman(48), Logano, Blaney, Wallace, Truex, Chase Elliott(9), and Buescher held the Top 10 positions.
Late Cautions, Big Wreck
With 130 laps to go, Ross Chastain(42) got into the back of Keselowski who hit the rear of Jones sending the 43 car into a spin. The resulting caution gave everyone a chance to pit for fresh tires and fuel that will get them to the end of the race.
Christopher Bell(20), Chastain, and Suarez stayed out. But, they quickly succumbed to the speed of Hamlin as he moved back to the front.
With 115 laps to go Buescher and Kyle Busch got together out of Turn 2 and turned the backstretch into a parking lot of wrecked race cars. NASCAR put out the red flag to clean up the mess.
Kurt Busch, Keselowski(Out), Davison, DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell(34), Ryan Preece(37)(Out), Anthony Alfredo(38), Cole Custer(41), Chastain, Jones, Bowman(Out), Justin Haley(77)(Out), and Suarez(Out) were all involved in the incident.
Back to Racing
Hamlin, Blaney, Logano, and Elliott are the front four when the race restarts with 104 laps to go. No surprise, Hamlin and Blaney begin to pull away from the rest of the lead pack. Michigan’s Erik Jones, took his car to the garage as a result of damage from the big melee finishing in 29th.
Martin Truex Jr. begins to close on the top 2 to make it a 3-way battle for the lead. With 50 laps to go, Briscoe spins and brings out a caution that will set the stage for the final laps.
The most important thing on the last pit stop is don’t make a mistake and beat yourself. That’s exactly what happened to Ryan Blaney’s crew. While changing tires an air hose gets hung on the car’s undercarriage, Blaney drags it out of the pit box incurring a penalty. Restarting at the rear of the field eliminates one of the fastest cars from a shot at the win.
Truex beats Hamlin out of the pits but the short-run speed of Hamlin’s car kicks in at the restart and he retakes the lead. When Truex’s tires heat up he is right back into a battle for the top spot. Teammates racing each other can sometimes have disastrous results, see Logano and Keselowski at Daytona. Truex runs Hamlin straight up as they go at each other for multiple laps.
With 15 to go Truex manages to get around Hamlin and begins to pull away. Hamlin falls into the clutches of Chase Elliott and they go side-by-side for several laps. After leading for 276 of the 500 laps, Hamlin falls to 3rd at the finish. Truex becomes the first repeat winner of 2021 after a string of 7 different drivers took the checkered flag in the first 7 races of the year.
The biggest surprise 8 races into the 2021 season is Aric Almirola in 28th place in the points standings. A playoff driver last year, Almirola sits 84 points below the cut line. Hamlin holds a 61 point lead over Joey Logano for the regular-season championship but has yet to record a victory in 2021.
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||287||In Win(2)|
|2||Joey Logano||300*||In Win|
|3||Kyle Larson||274||In Win|
|4||William Byron||261||In Win|
|5||Ryan Blaney||252*||In Win|
|6||Christopher Bell||216||In Win|
|7||Michael McDowell||189*||In Win|
|14||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||202||+27|
|Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Driver
Results of the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 from Martinsville Speedway
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||—||500|
|15||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||16.378||500|