CUP: March Madness? Try April Anxiety

Published April 02, 2012

| Speed

If we are to believe what happened in the final minutes of an otherwise lackluster race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway:

Clint Bowyer is a wild and crazy guy.

David Reutimann is the source of all evil.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is almost a point leader despite not winning a race since the Nixon Administration.

• Ford doesn’t have a clue at the circuit’s shortest track.

Yes, it was a wacky afternoon at venerable Martinsville Speedway, where they apparently have no plans to rip up the track despite a parade-like atmosphere that saw Jeff Gordon lead 328 laps and Jimmie Johnson lead 112 laps.

Of course, neither won.

Your winner would be Ryan Newman, who didn’t lead any laps until number 504, which was four laps beyond the advertised length of the race.

Wacky.

The race was supposed to end with Hendrick teammates Gordon and Johnson battling eye to eye for the right to be the focal point of the celebration of the organization’s 200th Sprint Cup victory. They were side by side in turn four with three laps to go, preparing for what probably would have been a vibrant finish, when Reutimann changed everything.

Reutimann’s Chevrolet had been limping around the track for several laps as the veteran driver struggled to finish the race. He didn’t make it. The car stalled near the first turn, and NASCAR dropped the caution flag with three laps to go, temporarily halting the Gordon-Johnson battle for first.

That threw the race into overtime, and everyone except Gordon and Johnson pitted for tires, creating a recipe for mayhem on the restart as drivers with fresh rubber eyed the two at the front.

When the green flew, so did Bowyer. He made a beeline for the inside lane in turn one, forcing Johnson and Gordon, who were side by side, up the track. Johnson spun, and the contact also sent Bowyer into a slide. Caution flew again as Newman followed Bowyer’s path and moved into first place.

The second and final green-white-checkered was relatively calm as Newman held off AJ Allmendinger for the win.

Junior followed in third, boosting him from third to second in the point standings. He’s only six behind Greg Biffle going into the Easter break.

But the thing Earnhardt Jr. – and several other drivers – wanted to talk about after the race was Reutimann’s ill-timed maneuver, one that turned the circumstances of the race upside-down. The general thinking in the garage was that Reutimann should have pitted when his car started fading.

“First off, go back to the yellow with the 10 car (Reutimann) stopped on the track,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished ninth despite sitting in third at the end of 500 laps. “That was really, really uncalled for and ruined the day for a lot of people, Jeff (Gordon), Jimmie (Johnson) and myself, from having a lot better finishes.

“I think we’re all really, really frustrated with that guy. We came in and got tires and definitely had a shot at the race (win), at least a top-four or five finish, for sure. Then the question comes – what’s the lineup for that last restart? That’s hard to tell. … My gut says we should have been a lot further ahead of where we were allowed to restart. I don’t have all the info, so it was one of those deals.”

At day’s end, after all the calamity, Newman held the trophy, a winner for the first time in 23 races, and Allmendinger had scored a career-best second-place finish.

Everyone else was left to sort of scratch their heads, including virtually the entire Ford contingent. Ford hasn’t won a race at Martinsville since 2002, and Blue Oval drivers led only four of 515 laps Sunday.

Wacky.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.

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