326 laps lead. Fastest car on the track all day. Dominance on every restart. Then came the first attempt at a Green White Checkered finish. Jeff Gordon was sure he had it won, but on the first attempt to finish under green, both Gordon and Johnson had slow restarts allowing Clint Bowyer to get under them and make a pass attempt, which erupted into chaos as Gordon was pushed up the track into Johnson causing all 3 cars to wreck, and allowing Ryan Newman to pass in the melee along with A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. In what has become the typical Martinsville finish, the final pass to win the race came with under 4 laps to go.
Newman had been running inside the top 10 during the early stages of the race, but had fallen off the lead lap due to a pit road speeding penalty. As the race worn down to the final laps however Newman earned a free pass to get back on to the lead lap. A little bit of pit strategy and he was back in contention, running inside the top 10 again. Then as the first GWC restart happened Newman found himself in 5th position on the grid, and as it turned out, sitting in the cat bird seat when the fireworks started. As Bowyer slid up into Gordon, pushing Gordon into Johnson, Newman took advantage and passed them all on the bottom of the track bringing A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Jr. along with him through the mess.
“I felt like I wasn’t racing AJ on that restart — I felt like I was racing Junior behind me,” said Newman. “It was really important to me to not spin my tires and get a good start and race AJ and try to eliminate the No. 88 [Earnhardt] from the race for the win.”
Allmendinger, Earnhardt Jr., and Newman raced each other clean to the end.
“He ran me really clean,” Allmendinger said. “He didn’t shove me up the race track like he could have. He gave me the opportunity to beat him on the outside there. We were just not turning good enough in the center [of the corners] there on the restart.
“But we had a shot at it. That’s all you can ask for.”
Allmendinger had decided to play by the unwritten racing Golden Rule…’Race teh other driver the way he is racing you’. Running clean and racing to the finish instead of forcing the issue and driving dirty for the win.
“That’s not the way I want to win a race,” Allmendinger said.
“[Newman] did everything clean on the restart. He could have drove me off the race track, and if he would have done that then it’s kind of like, ‘OK, it’s game on.’ But he gave me all the chances that I could to go beat him.”
“We came off the white [flag] side by side and he rolled [Turns] 1 and 2 really good, and that was it,” Allmendinger said. “You race people how they race you. And if he would have just drove into the corner, [run into the] left side of me and got me out of the way, then I would have probably run into him. He didn’t do that and he didn’t deserve to get wrecked.”
“For the way we ran all weekend even if the yellow wouldn’t have come out, we would have finished eighth where we were running — I was going to be happy because we were a top 10 car all day,” Allmendinger said. “We worked our way up there and did all the right things. From 27th on, from where we started, we didn’t have any fender damage. We were clean. I was going to be happy with that. At the end, you get a little bit lucky on a restart and you have a chance.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr looked good throughout the race, never really falling back too far and staying in the mix for the top 10 all day long.
“Yeah I’m really happy with our finish. We worked really hard all day, all weekend really, we worked hard to obviously get the best finish that we could. This is our first race with AMP on the hood so I’m real proud to get a good finish for those guys. Really, the race, the car was good on the long runs, we obviously drove up there and passed Jeff for the lead, and then at the end of the race we overcome a bad pitstop and drove back into the top three. So the car was really good on the long run speeds, we didn’t have enough short run speed to run with a lot of people in the first 20 laps or so but after lap 45 or more the car was really great, really comfortable and would do whatever I wanted it to do. It was a really fun racecar and this is a really fun race track, and I was enjoying how everything was playing out there, right up until the end. We tore both sides of the car there at the end and that felt really unnecessary.”
“Now that I think about it, the leaders had old tires, more than a 100 laps on them, the guys behind them had new tires at least on one side of their cars. Well all took of and ran into the backs of the leaders, all of us. Clint went to the inside and that was his perogative man, he was going for the win. I thought it was a good move, but there just wasn’t enough room for the three of them down there in the corner and all of them got together.”
“It’s disappointing for us to run as well as we did and not finish up there, I know Jeff is especially disappointed because of the way his season is going so far. Jimmie is trying to climb back into it, and they both had winning cars all day.”
With the third place finish at Martinsville, Jr. finds himself in second in points now only 6 points out of first. Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are tied in points for the third position which will of course be adjusted by the number of wins and last season’s points position to give us the current positioning.
Next weekend brings us to the first race break of the season for the Easter holiday festivities. The next race on teh schedule will take us to Texas for the first Saturday Night under the lights race of the 2012 season.