|Kurt Busch bests Johnson to win at Martinsville|
|Sunday, March 30, 2014 8:02 PM|
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kurt Busch’s Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, in some ways, was like his career wrapped into one afternoon.
It started with a pit road confrontation with Brad Keselowski, one that had Busch threatening over his radio to rearrange Keselowski’s face when the race was finished, and ended with Busch ending an 83-race victory drought.
The victory was his first for Stewart-Haas Racing, in just their sixth race together, suggesting that it could prove a very productive partnership and one that a reflective Busch said he has learned to approach with a more mature attitude.
“I ran a lot of my early part of my career as an individual and I didn’t respect my team, my team owners,” Busch said, adding that having Tony Stewart as a team owner has helped him learn the value of better team communication.
Celebrating in Victory Lane also was emotional, too, because he got to do it for the first time with girlfriend Patricia’s son, Houston.
“It was pretty emotional. To see him starry eyed and not knowing what he needed to do and I was directing him where he needed to stand and where he could see it all better and put him up on stage,’” Busch said, his voice cracking. “And to have him break down in tears, it got me crossed up because I’ve been trying to deliver for him … It kind of took it to a new level.”
Busch did it by passing Martinsville master Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 10 laps to go and holding off the 8-time winner to win at the track for the first time since October 2002. It was his 25th career Cup-level victory; that it came in the most unlikely of places suggested to Busch that he’s finally in the right place, team-wise and personally.
“You’ve got to put life in perspective, and you have to learn from your mistakes and you can’t just sit there and try to muscle your way individually through certain situations,” he said. “And so you rely on your experience level, you rely on your team, and this is a great day for me to be able to lift the trophy in Victory Lane for Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Johnson, with eight wins in 25 career starts on the 0.526-mile oval, led 11 times for 296 laps. He seemed on his way to another victory when he took the lead from Busch with 17 laps remaining. But Busch stayed close, ducked underneath Johnson seven laps later and Johnson had nothing left to make a run at the lead, making for a polite-looking finish.
“That’s all I had,” Johnson said. “Man, I ran the rear tires off the car. I flipped every switch and knob I could in there to get front brake and turns fans off and try to help bring my balance back.”
Just ahead, Busch wasn’t sure he could hang on. He hadn’t finished in the top 10 in his last 16 starts here.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it, you know? The 48 car is king here, him or the 24,” he added in Victory Lane, referring to Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, who also has eight Martinsville victories.
“I’ve been on this journey for a while and every time you come to Martinsville, you just kind of draw a line through it like there’s no way I’ll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys or be up in the top 10.”
When it was over, Busch brushed aside talk about his in-race comments about his feud with Keselowski, who claimed that Busch “just drove right through me and ruined my day” on pit road, causing Keselowski to lose 30 laps and retaliate.
“He tried to flatten all four of my tires,” Busch explained of his former teammate with Roger Penske Racing. “That’s a no-fly zone. … He will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back.”
The race featured an event-record 33 lead changes; Johnson expected there would be one more but on a slippery day on the smallest circuit in NASCAR’s premier series, the cars at the end weren’t conducive to typical short-track racing.
“Man, we were so on edge slipping and sliding,” Johnson added about the final-laps duel, during which there was very little of the beating and banging that usually typifies end-of-the-day racing at Martinsville. “I think the lack of security in our own car kept us from feeling more racy and putting a bumper to someone or really getting inside someone aggressively.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose.
Virginia native Denny Hamlin, a 4-time winner at Martinsville stung by criticism when he missed last week’s race in Fontana, Calif., because of an eye infection, promised Friday that he would win and qualified second, but finished 19th.
Crafton wins in truck at Martinsville for 1st time: Matt Crafton grabbed the lead for the first time late and held on to win the rain-delayed Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, his fourth career victory and first on the half-mile paper clip.
Crafton, the defending series champion, passed local favorite Timothy Peters on the inside of the fourth turn to grab the top spot, then survived two 2-lap sprints to the finish in the race postponed Saturday because of rain.
Darrell Wallace, who won here last fall, finished second, followed by Ben Kennedy, Johnny Sauter and Ryan Blaney.
Crafton became the 23rd driver to win in 31 truck races at Martinsville.
The race was just the second of the season in the series, following the opener at Daytona on Feb. 17.
The 22-race schedule resumes May 9 in Kansas.
Power opens IndyCar season with win in St. Pete
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Preparations for the IndyCar Series opener began with a silly spat between the two top organizations over a perceived slight made by the president of Team Penske.
The dig — Tim Cindric compared Penske to the New York Yankees and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing to the Miami Marlins — irritated the Ganassi camp and created some drama heading into the race Sunday.
When the checkered flag waived, it was Penske driver Will Power in the winner’s circle. With teammate Helio Castroneves finishing third, Team Penske drivers claimed two spots on the podium and fired the opening salvo in the rivalry.
“I’ve only heard a little bit of that story, so I haven’t paid much attention,” Power said. “Are the Marlins good? Do they win?”
Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon, the defending series champion, finished fourth and Tony Kanaan was sixth in his debut for the team.
So with Verizon-sponsored driver Power on top of the podium in the first race with Verizon on board as the series sponsor, and Castroneves on the podium with him, round one easily went to Team Penske.
“We don’t want to give an inch this year,” said Castroneves, who lost the championship to Dixon last season. “We don’t want to give any opportunity. We want to give the championship to Roger no matter what it takes.”
Ganassi has won five of the last six championships; Penske last won in 2006.
It was fitting that the win went to Power, who picked up right where he left off last season. He won three of the final five IndyCar races last season — including the last two — and his Sunday win at St. Pete gives the Australian four out of the last six victories.
Power passed pole-sitter Takuma Sato for the lead with an outside move headed into the second turn on Lap 31 and was never really challenged again. He had to beat Castroneves off pit lane during stops under caution and the only hiccup was on the first restart of the race.
He was the leader and was slow to restart the field with 28 laps remaining. It caused traffic to stack-up behind him and led to a crash involving rookie Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti.
Andretti got out of his car with a limp and was favoring his wrist following the accident.
Hawksworth blamed the accident on the leaders stopping at the front of the field.
“We went when they said green and all of a sudden the leaders stopped. I don’t know what was going on at the front,” the rookie explained.
Power said he never braked and was confused because the field went green earlier than it should.
“They actually threw the green before I was even in the (restart) zone, so it was confusing to me,” Power added.
Castroneves didn’t buy Power’s version, noting he was fooled by his teammate.
“Will and I know each other for a long time. He knows my tricks,” Castroneves added. “I didn’t quite know that trick from him and he got me.”
IndyCar said the restart in question was acceptable but race control did review Power’s second restart and issued him a warning for going too early. He was not penalized but IndyCar said he will be if he does it again.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 15th in his return to IndyCar for the first time since he left for Formula One following his Indianapolis 500 win in 2000. He spent almost five seasons in F1 and seven in NASCAR before returning to open-wheel with Roger Penske.