I rated Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon the clear favorites for today’s race, and that assessment was pretty close. I’d say Martin and Gordon had the third and fourth best cars at the end of the race, respectively. Martin was doomed, though, by a pit-stall penalty about halfway through and then a blown right-front tire after he’d clawed his way back up to seventh with 40 laps to go. Gordon had the lead for a green-white-checkered finish thanks to a questionable pit stop by Denny Hamlin, but Matt Kenseth bumped him out of the lead on the restart, and he finished third.
I rated Hamlin #3 before the race, and he exceeded those expectations. His car came in as the track rubbered up, and on long runs he clearly had the top car. His day was seemingly shattered when he gave up the lead to pit during a caution with roughly 10 laps left and only Kyle Busch came with him. But then he shoved his way to 4th in just a few laps, and after the final caution, he slipped through for the win when Kenseth roughed up Gordon.
Juan Pablo Montoya never really was a factor today. Early on, he got banged on a little back in traffic, then had tire trouble. And like practice suggested, Jimmie Johnson had only a top 10-ish car, and he and crew chief Chad Knaus never really got it better, at least not relative to the other front runners.
I wasn’t surprised to see Jeff Burton running in the top five given his excellent performances during practice, but I didn’t foresee him having the best or second-best car. He had the top car on short runs, but was probably the second-best car on long runs to Hamlin’s 11. His right-front tire went soft with 17 laps to go and he decided to stay out on the track and try to hobble to the finish, but the tire blew on lap 10.
My big surprise today? Ryan Newman. The 39 didn’t show much in practice, but come race time he had a good car that steadily moved forward. By the end of the race, he was a top five car.
My Yahoo! Fantasy Picks
Mark Martin had an excellent car, but he was snake bit once again.
Clint Bowyer produced a solid return. He had a top 10 car all day and brought it home safe and sound in seventh.
Dale Jr. had a pretty good car early, but true to recent form, he and/or his team seemed to struggle in the pits a bit (or at least not excel), and the 88 didn’t improve as much throughout the race as his competitors. He probably should’ve had a top 10 but meandered home 15th.
A.J. Allmendinger was caught up in a wreck early and finished back with the go-or-go-home’ers.
When Martinsville’s surface goes from green to rubbered in, the change has a big impact on suspension performance. At the beginning of today’s race, the track was clean due to heavy rain the day before, and Tony Stewart’s car ran fantastic. As the track rubbered in, however, Stewart fell like a stone back through the field and ended up a non factor despite numerous pit stops to change the setup.