By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Richard Childress Racing had a phenomenal effort in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, with their trio of drivers all securing top 10 finishes, led by Austin Dillon in fourth.
The weekend began with Paul Menard qualifying fourth, Ryan Newman fifth and Dillon 29th.
At the start, Menard pushed his No. 27 Libman/Menard’s Chevrolet SS to the front early, leading 10 laps and looking like a contender for the win. Newman also hung among the leaders, but as the race went on the No. 31 Grainger Chevrolet began to slide outside the top 10.
Dillon had easily the most adventurous day of the three.
The third-year driver came up through the field, laying the bumper to several competitors that came in his path. By the end of it all Dillon found himself battling with Menard for RCR supremacy, as the two roughed each other up before Dillon skated by for top team honors.
Many thought after the race there might be issues between the duo, but they acknowledged their respect for the on track scuffle with brief words as the two shook hands on pit road.
“It was good,” Dillon said of the words spoken after the race on pit road. “Paul just said we had fast race cars. That’s pretty much the end of it. I’ve got to learn to keep my mouth shut on the radio. That’s part of racing.
“I’m a fiery guy and it was fun today. It’s nice to see the front of a short track like that. Sometimes you’ve just got to grow up a little bit, but it’s nice to be running up front. I’ve got to thank Dow and all the people that support us. It’s fun.
“I’ll talk to Paul. Me and Paul are fine. That’s the small part of it. What a run. Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) made a great call there. The pit crew did a great recovery. We broke a jack and were able to recover from that. A lot of things happened today. It’s Martinsville. Your head’s hot. You say things you don’t want to mean. Monday morning I’ll talk to everybody and we’ll figure it back out.”
Dillon has continued to show promise since late last season, and the 25-year-old talked about his adventurous afternoon at the half-mile oval after such a disastrous qualifying effort.
“It was fun,” said Dillon. “I was excited. To start 29th and to drive up through there like we did is a testament to these guys and effort they put in. I struggled at this track qualifying. Seemed to race well, I just have never really been good qualifying or practicing.
“We did a lot to help me as a driver today. Man, it was just a career day for the Dow Chevy here at Martinsville – looking forward to races to come. I learned a lot today.”
For Menard, his ninth-place finish rebounds what was a shaky start for the Sprint Cup Series veteran, securing his first top 10 finish of the year.
“We had a really fast car all weekend,” said Menard. “Top 10 in all the practice sessions, qualified fourth and drove up and took the lead. Led a little bit and we started with a little bit higher air pressure to start the race.
“We just gave up too much. Kind of got backwards and then had a set of tires that had a loose wheel, it was back in the middle part of the race and just battled back. Really fast car all weekend. Just trying to tune on it throughout the race.”
Newman completed the team’s stellar day after climbing back to finish 10th, his first as well this season.
“Coming into this race I told the team that they had given me the best car I’ve ever had at Martinsville Speedway,” said Newman. “The opening laps we were a top-five car despite a tight-handling condition. Our lap times especially held up during the longer the green-flag runs. After our third stop, we don’t know what happened to be honest. The car was on the splitter and it was just a handful to drive. It cost us big.
“We lost a lap and for about 150 laps we marred back in 19th, 20th position. No one on the Grainger team threw in the towel because our lap times were within the top 10. We were even passing top 10 cars but needed to somehow fight our way back onto the lead lap. With about 50 to go, we got the break we needed and raced our way back onto the lead lap. A late-race caution allowed us to pit for fresh tires and we were able to race from 17th to a 10th-place finish. I’m proud of this Grainger team and everyone at Richard Childress Racing.
“We worked hard this off season and to see all three cars end up in the top 10 says a lot about our organization. Glad to see this team rally back for a top 10 because we had another good car and now a decent finish to reflect it.”
Image: Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing