By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
An eventful STP 500 from Martinsville Speedway has been settled and Kyle Busch is the man that grabbed the traditional grandfather clock after holding off AJ Allmendinger in the closing stages. Here are the key topics coming from Sunday’s race at NASCAR’s oldest track.
1) Impatience from start to finish
The common theme is patience early and then to take everything late. That certainly wasn’t the case on Sunday, from the drop of the green flag bumpers found each other with drivers more than willing to move each other without any hesitation. It was a welcomed change to not just wait until the halfway mark until drivers started to get serious about track position. Between teammates Austin Dillon and Paul Menard roughing each other up, to David Ragan punting Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the way, heading to Bristol in a couple of weeks could be the site of payback for some.
2) In the end it doesn’t even matter
Speaking of Earnhardt, after he was punted by Ragan he began a slow march from a lap down back to late race relevancy. The 41-year-old had to have passed the most cars when it was all over, cutting through lead lap cars while a lap down and then proceeding back up through the field once he got his lap back. Unfortunately for Earnhardt, the spirited climb back into the top 10 ended on a late restart when he faded to 14th. Still, the speed was obviously there so it’ll be interesting to see how much carry over there is moving forward as the series heads to Texas next week, the site of his first Sprint Cup win.
3) Allmendinger, a true underdog story
No driver perhaps showed more tenacity than AJ Allmendinger. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver hung around the top five for a solid portion of the race, but it was the impressive drive late that raised optimism about a possible win. Allmendinger battled up to third until a late caution came out with a restart ensuing with 11 laps to go. From there, Allmendinger pushed up to second and ran lap times comparable to the eventual winner, Kyle Busch. It was the second consecutive top 10 posted by Allmendinger – perhaps this is the start to a rebounding playoff run after having a rough 2015.
4) Look who put their big boy pants on today
Richard Childress Racing put two out of three cars in the top five after qualifying, and then witnessed all three collect top 10 finishes at races end. Led by Austin Dillon in fourth, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman took home their first top 10 runs of the season with eighth and 10th respectively. It’s slow progress at RCR, but it progress nonetheless. The program appears to be on the rise and has a driver in Dillon that looks poised to breakout.
5) Finding reality
No rookie finished higher than 19th at Martinsville, with Ryan Blaney motoring just ahead of Chase Elliott, who ended up 20th. Overall, a lot of expectations were on Elliott to deliver after qualifying 10th and being in with a No. 24 team that was the last to win at the half-mile oval. Perhaps the expectations are unfair, but given how both Blaney and Elliott have been running in recent weeks, it’s safe to say solid results are anticipated as the season moves on.
The STP 500 was for the most part a quality race, but it just seemed to be missing that extra push to send it over the top. With the exception of Kyle Busch, the field stayed in flux until the checkered flag and the final 50 laps were certainly enjoyable. With several changes hitting the teams at Martinsville – low downforce package and gearing changes most notably – it in all likelihood was a steep learning curve for the teams.
Image: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images