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ThatsRacin.com


Race Rewind: STP Gas Booster 500

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Apr. 07, 2013

Observations

• Whatever new compound Goodyear used in its tires for Martinsville Speedway this weekend, it should do its best to make it adapt everywhere else NASCAR races. For decades, the best drivers in NASCAR were ones who were best at making their tires last. In recent years, the tires have become so hard, there were many times teams didn’t even consider the need to stop for new ones. In both Saturday’s Truck race and Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the tires fell off. In both cases that put more of the outcome in drivers’ hands which in turn made for better racing.

• Danica Patrick had struggled much of practice in Friday and Saturday and her start to Sunday’s race was ominous as she spun and brought out the first caution on Lap 17. She eventually fell two laps down but thanks to some timely cautions and a fast car, Patrick eventually made her way back on to the lead lap. Despite the crazy final laps, she battled Brian Vickers hard to come home 12th – her second-best effort of the season. Not a bad debut for Martinsville.

• Sort of a strange scene in the media center after the race as Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon sat next to each other and cordially spoke to one another during an entering post race press conference that also included Patrick as the highest finishing rookie. Makes one wonder just how much there is to the driver “feuds” promoted so much by the media.

Notebook

Patrick surprises in finish: Martinsville Speedway is typically not kind to Sprint Cup Series rookies and particularly those who have to start from the rear of the field like Danica Patrick did Sunday because her team changed engines.

Patrick turned a lot of heads, though, coming from two laps down to get back on the lead lap and earn a 12th place finish while going toe-to-toe with Brian Vickers on the last lap.

“I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that it was going to be a little crazy, Patrick said. “The bumping and banging sure gets going. It was nice to have a good weekend – we’ve had quite a few bad ones since Daytona.”

McMurray on the move: From start to finish, Jamie McMurray easily had his strongest performance of the season, running around the top-five nearly the entire race.

He finished seventh and has his seconde top-10 finish in the first six races and is 13th in the series standings. He was 24th in points at this point one year ago.

“We had a really good car. Even if we fell back, I could get back in the top-five,” McMurray said. “We just didn’t have enough speed at the end. We made a good pit call and got a couple of extra spots. That was a really good day for us.”

Keselowski rebounds from bad call: Late in the race, Brad Keselowski was making what looked to be a routine four-tire pit stop when the NASCAR official working his pit indicated he was pitting outside the box. Keselowski backed up to ensure his car was inside the lines and lost four positions on the stop.

Multiple replays of the stop, however, showed Keselowski’s right-front tire did not hit pit box line. He still ended up finishing sixth.

“Sixth is good, but it’s just not great,” he said. “We want to be able to win here and just haven’t been strong enough to do that.”

Earnhardt loses lead: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ascension to the Cup series points lead only lasted one race as he finished 24th Sunday and two laps down. He got off to a bad start when he was one of 11 cars collected in a wreck on Lap 180.

5 key moments

1 . Even though Jimmie Johnson won the pole, he failed to lead the first lap. It didn’t matter, though. He still led 196 of the first 221 laps.

2 . Several contenders for the race win got collected in an 11-car wreck on Lap 180 and received extensive damage, including Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr.

3. Matt Kenseth had a strong car Sunday and was firmly in control until a caution came out on Lap 362 when Ryan Newman stopped on the track. Kenseth lined up second on the restart but lost ground after that and finished 14th.

4. Johnson retook the lead during pit stops under the Newman, having the benefit of the first pit stall thanks to winning the pole.

5. A late-race wreck and more than six-minute red flag to clean debris didn’t slow Johnson’s march to victory. On the restart with eight laps remaining, he quickly gained a sizable lead on Bowyer, who was then running second.

Next race

NRA 500

Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas

When: 7:30 p .m. Saturday

TV: Fox

Radio: Performance Racing Network

Last year’s winner: Greg Biffle

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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