Martinsville offers high-octane made-for-TV racing

Updated: November 2, 2009, 2:48 PM ET

AP Photo/Steve Helber

They don't call Martinsville Speedway "The Paper Clip" for nothing.

One thing you can't call Martinsville Speedway is a cookie-cutter track.

An anachronism, maybe … a paper clip of asphalt patched with concrete … two parallel drag strips connected by hairpin turns … NASCAR's only remaining answer to the bumper-car rides at county fairs …

But not in the least mundane, and therefore NASCAR's best soundstage for studio racing, made for TV.

If Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 had played out on a cookie cutter -- one of those 1.5- or 2-mile tracks you fans loathe so -- viewers might have howled, "Dull race! BO-ring!"

Jimmie Johnson led and led, and then Denny Hamlin led and led and led. Then toward the end, not even double-file restarts could make it a duel between those two, as Hamlin kept escaping easily to win.

But there's no such thing as dull racing at Martinsville. It's just too crowded, too much of a traffic jam, too many bumper cars at 90-plus mph on NASCAR's tiniest track, only .526 of a mile around, and flat.

Even if nothing is happening, there's always the anticipation that something could happen any second.

That nothing ever came of the early-race mini-feud between Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya is beside the point. And so it was with Hamlin's avowed intentions of avenging Johnson's bump-and-win of their Martinsville duel back last spring.

The anticipation was there for both conflicts, right down to the last lap -- although for duelists Hamlin and Johnson it had run out maybe 40 laps earlier.

Johnson had once chance to make it déjà vu of spring, when "[Hamlin] caught the curb with about 40 to go and lost some drive off of 2," Johnson told reporters at the track, "and I got inside of him, and I thought, 'Man, I've seen this movie before.'

"I got inside of him, and he came to block the position like he did in the spring," Johnson said, referring to his contention in March that he didn't bump Hamlin out of the way so much as Hamlin squeezed him into contact.

But at any rate, "I wasn't in there far enough to stay in there like I did in the spring, so I backed out of it, and I think I actually hit the curb and screwed up my line. … That was my one chance."

Knowing all that could happen on the tiny track, Johnson decided to settle in and settle for second, and still build his Chase cushion to 118 points over second-place Mark Martin.

Johnson had won five of the previous six Cup races at Martinsville -- with only Hamlin breaking his streak, in the spring of 2008 -- but this time, "either our car was a little bit better or his was a little bit worse," Hamlin said. "Last year we were the same."

As much anticipation as the late double-file restarts created, they actually helped Hamlin hold the lead, he said.

"You actually feel a little bit better with him being on the outside of you than you do [with Johnson] right behind you on a restart, because … if I can clear him, then he's going to have to deal with the guy running third."

That was Montoya, who'd been so aggressive early against Gordon that Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, warned him on the radio to look out for Montoya.

Afterward, Gordon told ESPN TV reporters he would ask Montoya just exactly what he'd done to deserve this, "if I did anything."

"I was running on the outside of him," Montoya countered, "and every time he was just getting wider and wider."

That was a tenuous complaint, in that Montoya wanted Gordon to give him room where there is little if any to give -- Martinsville Speedway.

That's why NASCAR's schedule-makers will think twice, or thrice, before taking a race away from Martinsville for some cookie cutter such as Kansas, the cash bonanza of a planned casino there notwithstanding.

Martinsville, which has hosted NASCAR since 1949 and is one of only three remaining short tracks on the Cup tour, is simply the best venue for studio racing in an era where TV ratings count more than attendance and local-economy cash infusions put together.

As such, Martinsville remains one of the few surviving geese that laid the golden egg for NASCAR.

Nationwide Series: Bumper-banging Keselowski denies Busch at Memphis

No sightings of Elvis were reported around Memphis during the weekend, but there were multiple sightings of the late Dale Earnhardt at Memphis Motorsports Park.

The Intimidator seemed to be sitting in the No. 88 car crew-chiefed by his former brother-in-law, Tony Eury Sr., throughout Saturday's Kroger on Track for the Cure 250.

The reincarnation's name is Brad Keselowski, who had a bumper-banging kind of day and then got rear-ended himself off Turn 4 on the final lap but held on to win.

Before surviving the final tap from behind by second-place Kyle Busch, Keselowski was the aggressor in three major tangles, with Justin Allgaier, Mike Bliss and Carl Edwards. All three went spinning while Brad K motored on.

"Yeah, that's short-track racing," Keselowski said when ESPN reporters brought up his slam-bang day. "I got into the back of Carl; that's the one I feel the worst about."

Keselowski cited tires that fell off fast, vision problems driving into the afternoon sun and the tightness of the three-quarter-mile Memphis track.

But in essence, "the harder you race and the tougher you race, the more you're rewarded, it seems like," he said. "So I might have gotten a little too far out there at times, but the fans love it."

When Busch tapped him as they headed for the checkered flag, "It felt like I was getting nudged all the way around," Keselowski said. "The tires were falling off so loose. … I was spinning-out loose by myself, and then he helped me a little bit, and we were able to save it and beat him to the line."

Busch apologized to Memphis-headquartered FedEx, his sponsor for the race, that "we didn't get one spot better. I couldn't put myself to spin him out."

Camping World Truck Series: Rookie Peters reels in first victory

Before Saturday, Timothy Peters was known mainly as the nice guy with the rough business move -- squeezing out reigning Truck champion Johnny Benson for a job earlier this season.

But in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville, Peters paid off Red Horse Racing owner Tom DeLoach for the controversial midseason firing of a champion.

His first Truck win couldn't have come at a better place for Peters, who lives just up the road in Danville, Va.

"Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now," Peters told reporters at Martinsville in the aftermath of such a popular win among his peers that even points leader Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished fourth and maintained a solid lead in the standings, joined in the celebration.

Peters cited DeLoach "for believing in me and giving me an opportunity."

Even second-place Todd Bodine said, "I'm really tickled to see Timmy win. He's a great kid."

Not exactly a kid. Peters is 29, and the win came after 64 Truck starts in a hard-knocks career that finally got him to Red Horse after he was able to bring a sponsor and Benson couldn't in the tough economy.

Peters took the lead on the 117th lap of the rain-delayed race and pretty much breezed from there.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.


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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin

  • Virginia native Denny Hamlin won the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
  • Hamlin scored his seventh straight finish of sixth or better at Martinsville in a streak that began there in October 2006.
  • This was the 23rd straight Chase race won by a Chase driver.
  • This was Hamlin's first Chase win in 43 career Chase races. It was his seventh career Cup win in his 147th start.
  • This was the fifth victory by Joe Gibbs Racing at Martinsville.
  • Jimmie Johnson (second) holds the points lead by 118 over second-place Mark Martin, the largest lead in the 2009 Chase. (It was 90 after Race 5.) The biggest points comeback with four races remaining occurred in 1992 when Alan Kulwicki came from 144 points behind to win the championship. The biggest point lead overcome with four to go in the Chase was 53 points by Jimmie Johnson in 2006.
  • Johnson scored his 15th straight top-10 finish at Martinsville. He has finished on the lead lap in the last 15 races there.
  • Johnson's worst finish in the last 32 Chase races is 15th (Texas and Homestead in 2008). Johnson extended an eight-race streak of leading a lap at Martinsville and a 15-race streak of top-10 finishes there.
  • With his lead in Sunday's race, Johnson has led in 43 of the 56 Chase races. He has led in 27 of the 32 races this season, a series best.
  • Hamlin led three times for a race-high 206 laps, including the final 139.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (third) scored his fifth top-5 finish in the Chase. It marked his best Martinsville finish in six races.
  • Non-Chaser Kyle Busch (fourth) scored his 12th top-10 finish in 2009. He climbed from 14th to 13th in points.
  • Jeff Gordon finished fifth in his 650th NASCAR start. Gordon has 577 Cup starts and 73 Nationwide starts. Gordon extended a 14-race streak of top-10 finishes at Martinsville and a seven-race streak of leading a lap there.
  • Gordon extended a record-setting 34-race streak of running at the finish at Martinsville. He also extended a 14-race streak of lead-lap finishes at the track.
  • Mark Martin (eighth) remained second in the standings but lost 28 points on first-place Johnson.
  • Tony Stewart (ninth) has been running at the finish in the last 55 races, the longest current streak.
  • Joey Logano (12th) was the highest-finishing rookie.
  • Matt Kenseth finished 14th in his 600th NASCAR start. Kenseth has 360 Cup starts and 240 Nationwide starts.
  • Kasey Kahne (32nd) was the lowest-finishing Chase driver at Martinsville.
  • The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, two Toyotas and one Ford.

Nationwide Series

Brad

Keselowski

  • Brad Keselowski won the Kroger On Track for the Cure 250 at the Memphis Motorsports Park. It was his sixth win in his 101st career start and his fourth victory in 2009.
  • Keselowski won the Nationwide Series Dash for the Cash Championship; he won all $150,000 of the awards.
  • Keselowski restarted 32nd on Lap 42 after giving up the third position to pit for a tire rub. He has finished in the top 10 in the last 14 races.
  • Keselowski led three times for 34 laps.
  • JR Motorsports won its fourth race of 2009 and first at Memphis.
  • Chevrolet won its seventh race at Memphis and 10th of 2009.
  • The race ended under green-white-checker conditions for the ninth time in 2009 and the sixth straight time at Memphis.
  • The race featured 13 lead changes, tying the track record set in 2002, and eight leaders, setting a track record.
  • Kyle Busch finished second for the 11th time in 2009, a series record for the most second-place finishes in a season.
  • Jason Leffler (third) had his first top-5 finish since taking third at Iowa in August.
  • Mike Bliss (fourth) led the most laps in the race (four times for 85 laps) and scored his third top-5 finish in three starts in the No. 11 car.
  • Brendan Gaughan (fifth) was the best-finishing rookie.
  • Carl Edwards (sixth) is now 215 points behind the points leader, Busch, falling another 20 points.
  • Scott Wimmer (seventh) had his third top-10 finish of 2009.
  • Steven Leicht (ninth) recovered from an early lap incident that put him 32nd on Lap 21.
  • The top 10 consisted of five Chevrolets, four Toyotas and one Ford.

Camping World Truck Series

Timothy

Peters

  • Timothy Peters won the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway. It was his first series win in his 64th start.
  • Peters is the fourth first-time winner in 2009. He becomes the sixth first-time winner at Martinsville.
  • Red Horse Racing posted its third series victory -- its second at Martinsville.
  • Peters led once for 84 laps.
  • This is the series-leading 12th win for Toyota in 2009.
  • This is Peters' 13th start with Red Horse Racing; he has scored 10 top-10s since joining the team. He has jumped from 19th to seventh in points since joining the team.
  • Todd Bodine (second) scored his seventh second-place short-track finish but is still looking for his first short-track win.
  • Colin Braun (third) scored his seventh top-5 finish in 2009. He moved up one spot to sixth in points.
  • Ron Hornaday Jr. (fourth) scored his sixth top-5 at Martinsville and 13th in 2009.
  • Kevin Harvick (fifth) scored his fourth top-5 finish in four starts this season. He was two laps down after a flat tire.
  • Matt Crafton (ninth) now trails Hornaday by 224 points. It is the largest point lead with four races to go.
  • Mike Skinner (23rd) was involved in two cautions and finished four laps down. He is 326 points behind Hornaday.
  • The top 10 consisted of five Toyotas, four Chevrolets and one Ford.

-- Racing Resources