Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
OBSERVATIONS: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway
After a quiet start to the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Martinsville Speedway was predicted as the place to see some spark created. Uh, that’s not quite what happened.
From the green flag to the checkered, the STP 500 was one of the tamest short track races for the Cup Series with no cautions caused due to drivers being spun around, and no notable feuds set to build for weeks to come. Sure, there was some contact and it certainly ruined Erik Jones‘ day with a flat tire, but every tap or bump was minor.
However, that is not to take away from the excitement as there was side-by-side racing around the paperclip all race long, with drivers battling for multiple laps for positions. There was also some close calls that easily could’ve created the spark we were looking for, too. Compared to the previous races this season, it still ranks as one of the better races thus far – but that also doesn’t say much.
Perhaps the spark missing was a real close battle for the victory at the end, or a challenge for the lead. Instead, Brad Keselowski dominated in pacing 446 of the 500 laps en route to the win. It just continues to prove where Team Penske has their program this year, marking their third victory following Joey Logano‘s Daytona 500, and Keselowski at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The success for Keselowski marks no surprise as he has always been strong at Martinsville, scoring 13 top-10’s in 19 starts. On top of his two trips to victory lane, he could’ve easily won a couple other times if not for contact mid-race, including with Matt Kenseth in 2015. As a whole, Team Penske has proven to be masters of the paperclip as Logano led the field to the green flag, and won last fall in dramatic fashion after pacing 309 laps to lock himself in the Championship 4.
If they continue the trend through the first six races this year, they could place themselves as the team to beat – but they’re not quite there yet. Both of them admitted at Auto Club Speedway that Kyle Busch has Joe Gibbs Racing’s on a different level at the intermediates, knowing that he was going to get by them eventually for the win as he did. Busch was fast once again, scoring a third-place finish, still allowing him to be the only driver to finish all six races in 2019 in the top-five.
On the flip side, Hendrick Motorsports has struggled thus far this year, but we won’t need to hear about how they have no top-five finishes recorded in 2019 anymore. Chase Elliott ran in the top-three all race long, pacing 49 laps, en route to a runner-up finish.
Elliott was satisfied with the balance of his Chevrolet all day long, as the No. 9 team made no adjustments on each pit stop per the driver reporting, “It’s not perfect, but it’s too close to change.” He also began to make ground on Keselowski in the final five laps by using the second lane, but ultimately ran out of time.
As he stated, he could have possibly tried to run that line a couple laps earlier and then maybe would’ve had a chance to race Keselowski for the victory. However, there is risk vs. reward with that as at the time with 10 or even eight laps to go, Busch was right there ready to pounce. What if he tries the lane and finds himself passed, or turned around backwards? The window of opportunity only opened by Busch getting hung up with a lap car for a bit.
Now, everybody is left wondering what could have possibly been. Damned if you don’t, damned if you do right?
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