This weekend I got to go to what I consider my home track of Martinsville and enjoy a relaxing weekend that while deterred by some rain, was very fun and exciting in the end. This was my first time being at a race in the covid-era, and honestly, it was odd. The energy around the track was lacking and the fact that we had little to no fan experiences and no practice or qualifying to attend, made the week my least favorite in my history of going to the track.
That does not change the fact that the track produced the same quality of racing that we have come to expect at Martinsville.
It seemed like the guy to beat all day was going to be Ryan Blaney. While he sucked on restarts and that allowed for Denny Hamlin to get the better of him on a lot of occasions, he was elite into a 20 lap run, Blaney’s car would come to life and leave the field.
With Blaney checking out it seemed inevitable that he was going to be a guy to contend in the end, but a late-race caution forced an error on pit road by one of his crewmembers, effectively ending his chance at a win.
A crew member’s air gun got caught on the front fender as Blaney rolled out of his pits which is what caused the penalty and damage. Not only that but the rear tire changer had issues getting his tire off the car to swap. So, either way, Ryan Blaney’s pit crew was going to cost him a shot at a race win.
I think that at this point Todd Gordon’s leadership of this crew might need to come into question. There has been almost a handful of races in the last year that Ryan Blaney was in contention for a win but lost due to pit road mistakes that are not the drivers’ fault. This will be another tally mark in the constant battle between Blaney and bad luck.
This misfortune led to Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin battling it out in what Truex was proud to say was a clean race. Before the final pit stop, Blaney had caught Denny and I think inevitably would’ve passed him. The question is if Truex had anything for Blaney. He was just hanging around the two of them biding his time it seemed as the race came to a close, but we will never know if he and Blaney had a shot at an even better duel.
There was drama from the big teams to the little teams and I will get into more of that at a later time, but I want to address how oddly fun this race was. This race was riddled with silly cautions that really made you question if these were the best drivers in America. Seeing these professionals constantly spinning out got old quickly. The pacing of this race was very odd, and while it made for a lot of great restarts, it kind of sucked to have these small cautions throw off everyone’s groove.
There were a lot of oddities with wrecks, especially with what became of an almost Talladega style crash that centered around a small feud between Chris Bescher and Kyle Busch. This forced a red flag and was the most drama-driven portion of the day with two new rivalries being birthed from this in Buescher and Busch as well as Suarez and Byron. Though I won’t lie, I still don’t know why Suarez is exactly upset with Byron.
As for Busch and Buescher, I feel like they’ll move on from this. They were both having rough days and got a little overaggressive with eachother. Sadly, this came at the cost of a lot of race cars.
Overall, this was a fun race with a lot of storylines, and while the pacing was just odd, I still think this was right on par for a good day at Martinsville.
- Kyle Larson overcomes a notorious;y bad track record at Martinsville to finish 5th. This is a big momentum pusher in his quest for a championship.
- Denny Hamlin continues to be the most consistent driver, while not winning yet in 2021.
- Kevin Harvick finished 8th while the rest of SHR continues to not be able to find footing.
- Chase Briscoe was actually on pace for his best finish of the year before contact with Harvick and others forced a tire down.
- Ryan Blaney rallied from that late-race penalty to make up 8 positions in 30 laps. Finished 11th.
- Bubba Wallace led laps for the first time in 23XI Racing history and was able to contend for a top ten most of the day. He finished 16th though.
- Corey LaJoie also contended for a top ten before misfortune struck him on pit road. Great job by that team.