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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

OBSERVATIONS: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

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For an event on the tighter quarters in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it did not have the usual spark that was expected, but it still beats most of the races so far this season if we’re honest. 

Sure, we didn’t get the late race drama or restarts and cautions, but there was some great battles for position with drivers bouncing off each other, along with tempers and it wasn’t like someone just ran away with the win either. While Clint Bowyer won, there was also a time that it appeared either Denny Hamlin or Ryan Blaney would win. 

In the end, Bowyer snagged the victory by holding off Kyle Busch, breaking a 190-race winless streak. To say the driver of the No. 14 Ford has experienced quite the career ride is an understatement. As he said in victory lane, it was nice to see Tony Stewart and Gene Haas “give this old dog a chance.” From being on top of the world destined for success with Michael Waltrip Racing, to surviving a season with a mid-pack team until his ride opened up at Stewart-Haas Racing. As one of the well-liked guys in the garage, simply due to a great fun laid back, entertaining personality, it’s nice to see him break through and get the monkey off his back. 

Speaking of Busch, that’s his third runner-up finish of the year – so no wonder he wasn’t in the best of moods post-race. That said, you cannot keep running like he is and fail to win all season so he will get his chance in victory lane soon. He’ll also probably one of the drivers contending for the championship in the playoffs. Too early?

Hendrick Motorsports’ struggles have been well documented through the start of the season, and to no surprise given their resume and roster of drivers. It appeared as though they were headed for one of their worst showings to date with no drivers in the top-10 at their best track as of halfway, but that changed during the second half. Alex Bowman drove up through for a season-best seventh, with Chase Elliott ninth. Some progress is better than status quo, right? 

While some drivers showed promise, others are wishing that they could join that list.

Darrell Wallace Jr. was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop during the opening stage with a flat tire. Frankly, it describes his season since scoring that top-five in the Daytona 500 to start the season. In the five races since, he has scored a best finish of 20th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. 

Roush Fenway Racing probably wants to get out of Virginia as quick as possible as after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked in practice, both he and Trevor Bayne struggled during the race, failing to finish in the top-30. For the record, neither has a top-10 so far this year and Bayne sits all the way back in 29th in the standings. Ouch. 

Oh yeah – we mentioned some tempers. It looks as though we’re restarting the Kevin Harvick vs Hamlin rivalry as the pair traded paint, followed by words after the event. A series of back and forth contact on the track finished off with Harvick brake-checking Hamlin off of turn two. Hamlin had to pit to fix the damage, finishing 12th, while Harvick placed fifth.

Following the event, Harvick brushed off the brake-check by saying, “He hit me a couple times and I was just trying to make sure I had my car under control.” Needless to say, the move did not go over well with Hamlin.

“He (Harvick) just got to me and I think bumped me three or four times,” he said. “And then I was just bumping him back and he brake-checked me. I probably shouldn’t have brake-checked him in the first place. They were just some light bumps here and then slammed on the brakes here. So, classy.”

Being in the midst of controversy and rivalries is nothing new for either driver as they’ve been in their fair share with different competitors through the years – and including a time with each other, as well. If this continues, it’ll be worth the entertainment. 

Side Notes:

  • I mentioned this previously, and I’ll say it again – we need some improvement on the broadcast. I’m sorry but Darrell Waltrip is finding more ways to get on my nerves this year, and frankly, normally I have no problem with them. Just because the track is famous for their wieners, it doesn’t mean you need to say “Boogity Boogity Boogity Let’s Go Racing Hot Dogs.” There were other comments, too, but you get the idea.
  • Now more annoying was when they put their advertisement banner around the right side and bottom of the screen. With their new leaderboard, you can’t read a dang thing when they do that. 
  • Who came up with the Dewey Rider campaign for Mountain Dew? It has to be one of the dumbest marketing campaigns, personally. I laughed when Dale Earnhardt Jr. hung up on him in the one commercial because I’d do that every time. 
  • It’ll be interesting to see how NASCAR addresses the pit gun situation moving forward as the sanctioning body mandated that they’d hand them out to teams, rather than each organization use their own – but there’s been issues. The latest? A little extreme if I do say so myself.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.