Martin Truex, Jr. punched his ticket to the final four of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs after taking the checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway.
After being moved on the last lap in 2018, Truex came ready for battle. He dominated from the start, winning stage 1 and 2 and leading 464 of the 500 lap show.
The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Toyota seemed to have no issue throughout the race, even when faced with several late race restarts. Truex was able to pull away fairly easily on each restart and maintain position.
Martinsville has not always been one of Martin’s strongest tracks, but the team gets better every year. This was his first win at the famed short track and his seventh win of the season.
William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-5.
The Round of 8 playoff battle continues at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 3 PM ET on NBCSN.
Since 2015, NASCAR has looked at making the racing product better in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR tested a lower downforce package at Kentucky and Darlington due to pleas from drivers, while NASCAR chose to use a higher drag package at Michigan and Indianapolis to try things their way.
After much consideration, NASCAR chose to go the way the drivers wanted, a lower downforce package. From 2015 to 2016, NASCAR reduced downforce from 2,700 pounds to 2,000 pounds.
In 2016, NASCAR tested an even lower downforce package at Kentucky and Michigan. After a few minor tweaks, downforce was reduced by 500 pounds.
Has this reduction of downforce made the racing in 2017 better? Let’s take a look at the first seven races of the season! The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has went to every style of racetrack from a superspeedway to a short track and from an old abrasive surface and a newly repaved surface.
The numbers are rather shocking.
The number of green flag passes at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2016 was 3,717. In 2017, that number was 2,811. That is a difference of 27.7574%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was 2210. In 2017, the number was 1,927. A difference of 3.6814%
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Phoenix Raceway was 686. In 2017, the number was 1,026. The number of green flag passes was up by 39.7196%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Auto Club Speedway was 3,346. In 2017, that number was 2,707. A difference of 21.1135%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Martinsville Speedway was 1,207. In 2017, that number was 1,725. The number of passes was up 35.3342%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Texas Motor Speedway, under the old pavement and configuration, was 2,733. In 2017, under the new pavement and configuration, the number of passes was 1,894. The difference is 36.2654%.
Early on in the season the eyeball test showed some issues within this package. Speedway Digest asked Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger what they would change based on the eyeball test and numbers.
“I would just like them to stop changing stuff. It’s tough on us. I thought way at the end of last year I think we had six top 10’s in eight races and we had finally kind of gotten a feel of the aero package of what we needed and had some good race cars when it came to set-up and knowing how we wanted to set them up and they keep changing. I think that is what’s tough here,” said Allmendinger. “Right away we all jump to conclusions that ‘oh it’s not good enough we’ve got to change again.’ You’ve just got to give teams time. The bigger teams, every time you change an aero package the bigger teams are going to succeed in that because they have the wind tunnel time. You would think it would bring the field closer everybody starting over again, well it just separates the field even more because the bigger teams have the more resources to go wind tunnel test and figure out the aero package a lot quicker than other teams do. It’s five races, we all just need to calm down a little bit and give it a whole year and see if it’s working or not and then make a decision after that, but we don’t need to jump to that conclusion after five races.”
Hamlin, who is a member of the Driver’s Council, had this to say about the aero package in 2017 and what changes he would advocate for.
"Well, I think we've had a relatively small sample size. I think that we've had probably fewer cautions than what we've had in the past, and that doesn't help the passes, the green flag passes, because you have jumbling up on pit road, faster cars have a bad pit stop, they've got to come back through the field, so that part of it hampers passing a little bit. It would be interesting to revisit that probably mid to later in the season,” said Hamlin. “But I think overall, the racing itself has been very, very good. We've seen battles for the lead every single week. So overall, we've been pretty happy with it. Corner speeds are down, which is good. That's something that we wanted. There's been more tire falloff this year, which has been good. That's what we wanted. So I think we're heading in a good direction. But early in seasons, there's some teams that are on top right now that are very hot and their cars are fast, and it's going to take a while for the competition to catch up. When they catch up, fields get tighter, more passing happens."
At this point in 2016, there were talks about a lower downforce aero package being used at the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, in 2017, the rumor mill has been silent about potential changes in the aero package.
RIDGEWAY, Va.— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch had at it during Sunday’s running of the STP 500.
In the second stage of the race, that ran from laps 130 to 260, Busch was setting a blistering pace lapping the field up to 17th position.
Early in the stage as Busch was about to lap Stenhouse Jr., but Stenhouse did not help but put on a fight with Busch. Stenhouse was not happy with Busch and was going to let him know it the next chance he got.
The opportunity for Stenhouse came on the final lap of stage two. Stenhouse was able to get to the bumper of Busch. Busch went higher than normal in the fourth turn because he was running a lane above where the rubber was being laid down. Stenhouse went low on Busch sending him up the racetrack. Stenhouse was able to get his lap back, and give Chase Elliott the stage win and playoff point.
After the race, Stenhouse mentioned that he had to do it for his team and sponsors to stay on the lead lap.
However, Busch had a different story to tell after the conclusion of the race.
“I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let the 17 back by and give him the lap. That was my intent, and then he just drove through me. It cost me my spot to the 24, so I was hoping the I could rn off the corner side by side with the 17 and keep the 24 at bay and just keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment, and I was trying to be a nice guy, but nice guys don’t finish first,” said Busch.
Busch mentioned that he felt disrespected by Stenhouse as he was banging him (Busch) into the corners. Busch also mentions that this incident will come back and bite Stenhouse at a later date.
“You’ve just got to remember race car drivers are like elephants; they remember everything.”
Busch finished second in the STP 500, while Stenhouse Jr finished 10th.
RIDGEWAY, Va.— Brad Keselowski was able to hold off and set sail to give Roger Penske and Ford Performance the victory in Sunday’s STP 500.
“This is awesome. We’ve ran so good here with the Miller Lite Ford, but something always happens and we haven’t been able to bring it home. Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks. The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it’s really just an honor to win here and get to compete here. This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a clock,” said Keselowski in victory lane.
This is Ford’s first win at Martinsville since 2002 with Kurt Busch, and Team Penske’s first win at Martinsville since 2004 with Rusty Wallace. This is Keselowski’s second victory in 2017.
The first stage started with an early surge from pole sitter Kyle Larson. Larson was able to lead the first 22 circuits, but as he was battling lapped traffic, Keselowski was able to pass him. That sent Larson dropping through the field. Keselowski was on point until the caution flew on lap 70. During the pit stops, Keselowski was busted for speeding resulting in him starting from the back of the field. Martin Truex Jr. assumed the race lead to go on to dominate and win the stage. Denny Hamlin finished second in the first stage, Kyle Busch finished third, Keselowski finished fourth, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five.
Many drivers stayed out at the conclusion of the stage because they pitted 13 laps before hand. To start the second stage, Ky. Busch was the race leader, Elliott restarted second, Ryan Blaney restarted third, Logano restarted fourth, and Erik Jones rounded out the top-five.
The second stage belonged to Ky. Busch. Busch dominated the second stage, but came up short on the playoff point. As Ky. Busch was putting cars a lapped down, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was trying to stay on the lead lap, but failed to do so. As the stage closed, Stenhouse was able to get on the bumper of Busch coming off the fourth turn on the final lap of the stage. That bump was able to give Elliott the advantage and the stage win. Ky. Busch finished second, Keselowski finished third, Jimmie Johnson finished fourth, and Blaney rounded out the top-five in the second stage.
Elliott won the stage off pit road, Ky. Busch was second, Johnson was third, Keselowski was fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five to start the final stage.
The final stage was prominently dominated once again by Ky. Busch. The first laps of the stage were unable to get in a rhythm as the caution flew five times for 25 laps. Once the race was able to get into a rhythm, Ky. Busch was able to lead 65 laps before Keselowski began to close in. The lead swapped between Keselowski and Busch numerous times. The final pass on Busch for Keselowski was the money move. Keseloski was able to move Kyle Busch up the race track and set sail for victory.
Ky. Busch finished second, Elliott finished third, Logano finished fourth, and Austin Dillon rounded out the top-five in the STP 500.
The caution flew 14 times for 95 laps. The lead changed 18 times among 17 drivers. The average speed was 70.139 mph. The time of race was three hours, 44 minutes, and 59 seconds.
Kyle Larson still holds the points lead by four points over Chase Elliott, Truex Jr. is third in points only 32 points behind Larson, Keselowski is 34 points behind in fourth, and Logano rounds out the top-five in points 61 back.
Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is the O’Rielly Auto Parts 500 from Texas Motor Speedway on April 9th at 1:30 p.m. EST on FOX and Performance Racing Network.
RIDGEWAY, Va.— Tire wear and tire management will be crucial in today’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Goodyear has brought a new right-side tire to Martinsville. This new tire was developed to help rubber-in the concrete-asphalt combination at Martinsville. The concrete corners at Martinsville provided a challange for Goodyear because they behave differently and the density of the surface.
Goodyear hopes this tire combination will optimize acceleration, deceleration, and cornering that is required at the track.
Teams have eight sets of tires to use for the STP 500. That is two sets less than what teams had last year.
With Friday’s rains washing away the rubber laid down on the track from one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) practice.
Two MENCS practices, NCWTS qualifying, and the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 helped rubber in the track on Saturday,
Chase Elliott, the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 race winner, talked about how the complexion of that race changed and expectations for today’s race.
“The temperatures are definitely up from what we typically see in this race. To me, the race track is taking on lots of rubber way quicker than it typically does. Typically, you don’t see rubber laid down in the truck race and don’t see it laid down until halfway through the Cup race. The fact that it is blackening up today, I think will probably lend itself to see some Martinsville of old with guys moving around. It’s going to be darkened up really fast,” said Elliott post-race.
When asked about tire wear on the left side, Elliott showed no concern.
The STP 500 is slated to drop the green flag at 2:13 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1 and Motor Racing Network.