Tuesday musings, on a Monday

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Clint Bowyer ended a 190-race winless streak and Stewart-Haas Racing has now won four of this season’s first six races.

Most guesses would have the four coming courtesy of Kevin Harvick but the 2014 champ is still a three-race winner in ’18.

Instead, it was Bowyer that ran away and led 215 of the final 216 laps of Monday’s snow-delayed STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

It was a very atypical event for a short track, not necessarily lacking in action but lacking in … something. Maybe it was the weekend snowstorm that pushed the race from Sunday to Monday.

I saw more contact on the drive up to Martinsville Speedway Monday morning than I witnessed in the STP 500 and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an observation. Morning traffic can be a bit dicey around Winston-Salem, it seems. Dunkin wasn’t the only place to view donuts.

Martinsville is a tight half-mile track; most folks say “paperclip” when describing its’ shape, and there’s a minimum of banking in the turns. It doesn’t look like a particularly fast track and maybe it isn’t but rocket down the straightaway at more than 100 mph and then come to a near standstill as you tip-toe through the corners and do it again and again and again and it’ll get your attention.

The track was on the original schedule way back in 1949 when NASCAR was still an unknown and eight races made up that first season’s schedule. It was dirt until the summer of ’55.

Contact takes place almost as soon as you drive onto the grounds of the legendary facility. Cars that aren’t dented and dinged and smashed and crashed aren’t often found at Martinsville. Some you might run across in the parking lots. Others are found on the track.

Drivers push and shove to gain track position and if it takes you more than two laps to set up and complete a pass you’re wasting time and the leader is probably long gone.

Drivers lean on fellow competitors. Not gingerly, either. It’s how it’s always been done.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t contact Monday – Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick pushed one another around briefly and there were a few other instances here and there.

But it’s worth noting that the 500-lap race was nearly into its final 100 circuits before a caution flag appeared for an actual “incident.”

That particular slowdown was the result of contact between Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray and some said it was contact with the inside curbing that shot Dillon into the path of McMurray, who then spun and backed briefly into the outside wall and that was about as wild and crazy as it got right there.

It was still an entertaining race, in my opinion. Just an unexpectedly tame one for a change.

I admit I failed to give A.J. Allmendinger his due heading into Monday’s race when asked on a radio show about the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver.

It completely escaped me that Allmendinger had two career runner-up finishes at Martinsville, and that before Monday’s race, four of his last five finishes were 11th or better.

Toss in another top 10 after Monday – AJ finished eighth and ran top-five for a generous portion of the race.

Lesson learned.

It was an impressive showing for Ryan Blaney as well with the Team Penske driver leading 145 laps and “winning” the second stage of the race. He finished third in the opening stage and third overall and that’s four top-10 runs in six races.

No, I didn’t expect a third Penske team to be quite as competitive right out of the box but they keep reminding us that the No. 12 group is basically the No. 21 Wood Brothers bunch of a year ago just clad in different colors.

Blaney’s worst finish this year has been 16th and that’s the exception.

Alex Bowman earned his first top-10 of the season, scoring a seventh-place finish in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports entry. His was the high Chevrolet for the race, but Allmendinger and teammate Chase Elliott (ninth) weren’t far behind.

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) is still winless but has three runner-up finishes now after Monday’s second-place result. That’s five endings of seventh or better in six starts.

It’s also why he’s now leading the point standings.

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