Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rating the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500: 4 Stars ****

After a long day filled with some hard hits and another late pass for the win, Kevin Harvick ended up in Victory Lane for the second time in as many weeks. This year’s edition of the spring race at Martinsville gets a 4 Star Rating.

If people thought Harvick had a fluke 2010 season when he contended for the title along with Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, he is quickly proving that he is a serious threat to be a consistent title threat to the #48 team.

Also, Harvick has now proven he can win on any type of track on the circuit. He won two of the restrictor-plate races a year ago, he won at Michigan last August and California last week, and now he mastered a short track with his win at Martinsville.

Plus, the #29 team has had just three DNFs in the past three seasons combined. Consistency mixed with a few victories is a quick way to the top.

But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Other drivers have won multiple races early in a season and gone on to have sub-par seasons from that point on.

As for Sunday, this was a pretty typical Martinsville race. It was a barnburner like the past few have been, but the racing was close at the end and nobody completely dominated the event.

With two green-flag pit stops, the record for lead changes at Martinsville, which was 25, was smashed as the lead was swapped 31 times. That makes the third race of the season that has set a track record for lead changes, not a bad start to the season.

OK, so now on to the elephant in the room — Dale Earnhardt Jr. almost won the race. A win from Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville would have been a total shock, but it also would have started a ton of talk about how Earnhardt Jr. is all of a sudden a title contender, which he very well could be. There just seems to be a pretty thick line between coming close to winning, and actually winning. However, Earnhardt Jr. has had good cars pretty much every week, and Steve Letarte has done a fantastic job as crew chief so far.

While one popular driver surprised in a positive way, another continued to disappoint. Denny Hamlin fell all the way to 12th after running a strong race but getting held up with pit issues.

The Joe Gibbs Racing engine shop got the engines to last the entire weekend this time, but the must have also sacrificed fuel mileage to do it. It stands to reason that the engineers would not run the engines so lean this weekend, which would use more fuel, but it definitely played a part in Hamlin’s race because he always had to pit before the rest of the field and it cost him when he got caught a lap down on the final caution and had to take the wave around.

So, next week it’s on to Texas for one of the fastest tracks on the schedule. Last year’s races at Texas Motor Speedway had their fair share of pushing, shoving and hand gestures, so it should be interesting to see if the drivers and teams play nice this time around.


  1. JM, good analysis. It's tough enough to get ONE win. Since breaking that nearly 110-race winless streak last April at Talladega, Harvick has won four times. To win consecutive races on a superspeedway (2 miles or longer) AND the shortest track on the circuit is nothing short of amazing. While it's premature to declare that Harvick will dethrone JJ, the 29 team has the makings of a championship team. But there is a reason JJ is known as Five-Time, and they know how to win when it counts. Should make for a thrilling Chase. As for Dale Jr, I compare him to Harvick in the early part of the 2010 season, before Harvick won at Dega. All it takes is for Jr to get that win, and the wins will follow. Hamlin was the victim of a very inopportune caution. All the good racing luck he had last season isn't there this season, at least so far.

  2. It was a good race, plenty of lead changes.

    Going into Sunday's race, Jr had led more laps at Martinsville than he had at any other track, so it wouldn't have been that big of a shock if he won.

  3. Ah Gene beat me too it..Junyer loves Martinsville and typically runs well there (if you can remember when he used to run well) so no shocker there at all.

    Had the race on x15 speed most of the time, lots of passing, plenty of action and liked that no one driver dominated. So far so good for the races this season!

  4. Four stars is about right here... It coulda been a five if the end of the race turned out differently... Like a punt and run to the checkers... A golden moment was withheld...

    Thanks JM!

  5. Hell, this was a 6 star race: 5 for my favorite driver winning plus 1 for beating Boomhauer.

  6. jon_464 - It is amazing how a single win can open the floodgates for more, while a second-place finish doesn't do much of anything. Once the code is cracked on the lock to Victory Lane, it seems like more wins usually follow.

    Gene - Good point. It's just been so long since he's seriously contended for a win and his average performance through much of the race that he kind of came out of nowhere.

    klvalus - That would make the laps at Martinsville last about, what, 1.3 seconds or so? Bet it looked like the cars were absolutely on a rail. lol. Haven't had a stinker race yet and there's a good chance it might be a while before there is one. We'll see.

    Dwindy1 - Ha, for a while I thought we had another Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Kyle Busch late-race wreck on our hands there late in the race. That would have gotten everybody talking.

    Anonymous - lol, and the current Bud driver beat the old Bud driver.