In a race featuring a record-breaking 33 lead changes, Kurt Busch crossed the finish line in first place in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, beating Jimmie Johnson to the win by a mere 0.263 seconds. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took third place, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose. Six races into the 2014 season and six different NASCAR drivers have taken the checkered flag, reportedly a first in Sprint Cup history. Had Johnson won the race it would have been his ninth at the historic Martinsville Speedway, nonetheless he was in the lead for 296 of the 500 laps. While this was Busch’s 25th career victory, it was his first win driving the #41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.
An earlier collision with Brad Keselowski nearly put Busch out of the running and cost Keselowski 31 laps, although he returned to the track and gained points. Following the predetermined caution on lap 40 to allow teams to check tire wear, upon leaving the pit lane Keselowski ran into Kasey Kahne as he entered the pits. At that point Keselowski reported damage to the #2 Ford, but things got worse as Kurt Busch, in attempting to pass the two cars, drove into the back of Keselowski’s car, pushing him even further into Kahne’s car. (Kahne went on to finish the race in 22nd place.) Keselowski put the blame for the damage to his car on Busch, but observers have noted that he started the incident by running into Kahne. Once back on the track, Keselowski brake-checked Busch, who retaliated by making contact, only to have Keselowski brush up against him again. In post-race interviews and on-the-spot tweets, it appears that the incident between Busch and Keselowski during the STP 500 may become an out-and-out feud.
Currently, the top five in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings are:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – #88 Chevrolet – 227 points
2. Matt Kenseth – #20 Toyota – 218 points
3. Carl Edwards – #99 Ford – 217 points
4. Jeff Gordon – #24 Chevrolet – 216 points
5. Jimmie Johnson – #48 Chevrolet – 209 points
The less than orthodox ending to Sunday’s NASCAR Food City 500 Sprint Cup Race on Sunday apparently did nothing to dampen the high spirits of Carl Edwards, who did his trademark backflip after earning his first win of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway, and his third career victory at this popular NASCAR venue. Second place went to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., followed by Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose respectively. After leading for 44 laps, Jimmie Johnson entered the pits with tire problems, and with a caution for rain in his team’s subsequent pit cycle Johnson slipped to 39th place, eventually finishing the race in the 19th spot.
With two-and-a-half laps remaining, and Edwards quite comfortably in the lead, the caution lights came on and drivers responded by slowing down. As NASCAR officials tried to figure out what prompted the caution, heavy rain started falling and the race was declared over at 503 laps, with Edwards being declared the winner. While it is agreed that the early finish had no impact on the outcome, it left NASCAR officials with some explaining to do.
Initially it was suggested that the excessive rainfall had shorted the system in some way, but then it was discovered that one of the people manning the flag stand had leaned on the manual override switch for the caution lights and switched them on. In response, the flag man raised the caution flag and the field was frozen from the tower. NASCAR’s vice president of competition and racing development, Robin Pemberton, later described the incident as a “stupid error”. In a post-race interview, Edwards noted that NASCAR officials are called upon to make a lot of tough calls, going on to say that he was “glad to be part of something where they say, ‘Hey, we just screwed up.’”
The standings in the 2014 Sprint Cup series so far are Brad Keselowski in the number one spot, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson. With competition this stiff so early in the season, there is plenty of excitement up ahead for NASCAR enthusiasts.