NASCAR & Auto Racing

Race Rewind | Martinsville is just a hard place to get around

Rewinding Sunday's race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway:

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

 Martinsville is just tough. When a team, even a good team, is running bad here it often looks like they just have no idea what they’re doing.

There’s no place to even get out of the way when things are going poorly. If you’re having a bad day at Martinsville, it’s a place can make you look just plain helpless.

 Jamie McMurray stepped up and got a top-10 finish – he wound up eighth – after being outside the top 35 coming into the weekend. The solid outing didn’t cure all of the No. 26 Ford team’s ills, by any means, but maybe it will shoo the vultures away for at least a week or two.

 Anybody who sat through nearly four hours of racing in the muck that passed for weather on Sunday deserves a pat on the back.

Several drivers mentioned the fans after the race and it was not lip service. I know football fans turn out in blizzards and all of that, but those who watched this race cannot, under any circumstance, be labeled fair-weather fans.

PIT STOPS

Vickers, Edwards don’t make it on fuel

The cars of Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards were two of those that stayed on the track when the rest of the leaders pitted for the final time Sunday. Jeff Burton and Casey Mears made it to the checkered flag, but Vickers and Edwards did not.

Vickers ran out of fuel with about a lap and a half to go. He wound up 23rd.

“We were really fast all day and we were hoping for a top-10 finish,” Vickers said. “We were banking on the rain coming in early. ...It’s just really disappointing.”

Edwards made it all the way to the final turn of the final lap before his car sputtered. He managed to salvage a ninth-place finish.

McMurray jumps back into the top 35

Not only did Jamie McMurray have his best race of the season, he assured himself of a guaranteed spot in the next one.

McMurray, who started fifth, ran in the top 10 near the entire race on Sunday and finished eighth, his best performance of the season by far. His previous best was 22nd at California.

The strong effort propelled McMurray five spots in car owner points, pushing him to 31st. The top 35 are guaranteed a starting spot each week.

“Even in 2003 when I had to make (races on speed) I wasn’t really expected to because I was a rookie and it was a brand-new team,” McMurray said. “That was a totally different feeling last weekend.

“I learned a lot about myself and fans. I never really understood how loyal NASCAR fans are and having the weeks that I had and everything and to support a guy that doesn’t win very often, that’s a really loyal fan and that kind of makes you feel good.”

Sadler makes it all the way

As it turned out, Elliott Sadler went the distance in Sunday’s race.

Sadler suffered a lower-back injury earlier in the way and limited his practice time over the weekend in his No. 19 Dodge. As late as Saturday afternoon, he gave himself a 50 percent chance of running all 500 laps. His Gillett Evernham Motorsports team had Truck series veteran Dennis Setzer on hand as a replacement, but Sadler remained in the car the entire race and posted a 15th-place finish.

“I feel pretty good,” Sadler said. “I appreciate Dennis Setzer working with us and my guys working with me the past two days giving me a little bit of a break on Friday and Saturday. That made a big difference.”

Sadler’s physician, Dr. Mike Anderson of Emporia, Va., made the trip to Martinsville on Sunday to assist with Sadler’s treatment.

“That was pretty special. He got me all straight this morning loosened me up like I needed to,” Sadler said.

Smith gets year’s best rookie finish

Regan Smith finished 14th, his career-best finish and the best for a rookie so far this year. Sam Hornish Jr. finished 15th in the Daytona 500.

“There were a number of situations where I could have stuck my nose in there behind a guy like (Kevin) Harvick or (Tony) Stewart,” Smith said. “I could have rooted them out of the way, but it’s going to come back to me 10 times worse, I’m sure of that.”

Smith’s finish moved him up four spots in the car owner standings into 35th, meaning he will be guaranteed a starting spot at Texas next week.

KEY MOMENTS

LAP 216

Denny Hamlin gives up track position to make a pit stop when most of the leaders stay out. He drops well back in the pack, but there’s still a lot of racing left on a cold afternoon at Martinsville.

LAP 282

Kyle Busch takes his Toyota to the garage area with a problem with his rear-end gear, which leads to a 38th-place finish and drops him from first to fifth in the Sprint Cup standings after six races.

LAP 389

Crew chief Mike Ford sends Hamlin off pit road with fuel only and no new tires on what winds up being the final stop of the race. That gets Hamlin ahead of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and that’s where he stays.

LAP 427

After running door-to-door with Jeff Burton for a complete lap around the .526-mile track, Hamlin finally pulls in front coming off the second turn to complete his pass for the lead. That gave Hamlin the lead for good.

LAP 441

Burton slides the nose of his Chevrolet as he comes off Turn 2, and although he holds onto second for the time being, the slip-up allows Hamlin to get away to a little bit of breathing room heading into the final 50 laps.

NEXT RACE

Samsung 500

Where: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth).

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

TV: Fox Sports.

Radio: Performance Racing Network.

Last year’s winner: Jeff Burton.

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