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Odd Finish Denies Hendrick 200th Victory

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 1 2012

A bit of mayhem broke out late in Sunday's race at Martinsville. The wreck took out the two Hendrick cars which were running first and second. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – With five laps remaining in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500, it appeared Rick Hendrick would finally claim his 200th NASCAR Cup victory as two of his drivers were battling for the lead and he had another sitting third.

No one, however, envisioned David Reutimann as the spoiler.

With only three laps remaining in the scheduled 500-lap race, Reutimann’s Chevrolet stopped on the frontstretch just as Jeff Gordon nudged ahead of teammate Jimmie Johnson by a fender. The stalled car resulted in the sixth yellow being waved on lap 498. All of the lead-lap cars except Gordon and Johnson pitted for tires.

That left the first two cars on tires that were more than 100 laps old, while the dozen on their bumpers had either two or four fresh tires. Ryan Newman’s Tony Gibson-led crew opted for two right-side tires and that left the Indiana native restarting fifth behind third-place Clint Bowyer. Brad Keselowski was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth.

When the green flag waved for the first green-white-checker restart, Gordon’s and Johnson’s cars didn’t take off as quickly on the old tires as those behind them with fresh rubber. Newman hit Bowyer in the rear at the start-finish line and Bowyer dove underneath Gordon as they entered turn 1 in an effort to snatch the lead. That made it three wide with Johnson on the outside. Bowyer slid up into Gordon who turned sideways and took Johnson with him. Johnson spun and tagged the wall, while Gordon and Bowyer blocked the middle of the track. Newman shot underneath Bowyer and into the lead unscathed.

“I was trying to make a run to dive underneath him to do to him what he was trying to do to the 24; not take him (and) the 24 out,” Newman said. “We were not trying to take him out by any means in that

Ryan Newman salutes the Martinsville crowd after winning Sunday's Sprint Cup race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

context, but just to be able to get track position and work my way up to third; and hopefully, my tires would outrun the 24 and 48 in the last couple laps. But that didn’t work.

“And then as soon as he got the run down into one, and for whatever reason, wore out, got loose, hit the curb, whatever, he definitely drove up into the 24 and ran out of room and caused a melee. But that’s short-track racing. We can be the best drivers in the world racing Sprint Cup stock cars or we can be out there running Hobby Stocks and the same exact thing would have happened.”

Once the track was cleared, the field was lined up for a second attempt at a green-white-checker finish with Newman first and A.J. Allmendinger second. Sitting behind Newman in third was Earnhardt Jr. and he was the competitor who caused Newman the greatest concern.

“It was really important for me to not spin my tires and get a good start and race A.J. and try to eliminate the 88 [Earnhardt Jr.] from the race for the win,” Newman said. “I was really only worried about Junior because I knew he would try to do the exact same thing Clint did because that’s what we all try to do.”

On the second green/white/checkered restart, Newman and Allmendinger raced side-by-side for a lap before Newman finally edged ahead to defeat Allmendinger by 0.342 second. Newman came from one lap down after incurring a pit road speeding penalty early in the event to collect his first victory this year and his first at Martinsville. His16th career victory came in the longest ever Martinsville race – 515 laps – due to two green-white-checker finishes. Ironically, the seven caution periods in Sunday’s event were the fewest in a Martinsville race since Sept. 22, 1996, also seven.

Stewart-Haas racing has now won eight of the series last 16 races and half of this season’s first six events. Newman’s teammate Tony Stewart won at Las Vegas and Fontana, Calif., last month.

“Ryan had been pretty good all day,” said Allmendinger, whose second was the best finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. “I knew being on the bottom and as tight as I was anyway on new tires, it was going to be tough to get around him, but he ran me really clean. He didn’t shove me up the race track like he could have. He gave me the opportunity to beat him on the outside there, but we just weren’t turning good enough in the center there on the restart.”

Allmendinger, who stayed as low as possible and went over the curb to miss everyone on the first restart, said he would have had to wreck himself and Newman to have defeated the former Daytona 500 winner.

“That’s not the way I want to win a race,” Allmendinger said. “He did everything clean on the restart. He could have driven me up the race track and if he would have done that, then it’s kind of like “OK, it’s game-on.’ But he gave me all the chance that I could to go beat him. You race people how they race you.”

Shortly after the checkered flag, before every engine was silent, the finger pointing began. Bowyer cited Newman for hitting him in the rear. Gordon and Johnson blamed Bowyer and Earnhardt Jr. wanted an explanation from Reutimann as to why he stopped his car on the track.

“I just don’t know what the No. 10 [Reutimann] was thinking with a broken sway bar and driving around there at 15 mph for two or three laps,” Earnhardt Jr. said after his third-place finish. “Come on pit road. Hell, how many laps down are you? Get on pit road. Get out of the race. It shouldn’t have ended like that. It was unfortunate.”

Reutimann, who finished 35th, 79 laps down, said he didn’t stop on the track.

“The thing quit going on the back straightaway,” Reutimann said. “I know it sucks and I hate it for everybody affected, but I can’t get out and push the thing. I was just trying to finish the day out and stay in the top 35 (in owner points).”

Reutimann’s car fell to 36th in owner points.

Gordon and Johnson were the class of the field throughout the race. Gordon led six times for 328 laps, while Johnson set the pace on three occasions for 112 laps. Gordon’s total was the most laps led by a non-winner since Rusty Wallace led 343 on April 9, 2000.

“I certainly wish it wouldn’t have happened and I wish Clint was more patient there getting started on the restart,” said Johnson, who finished 12th. “The inside lane is awfully inviting at times to dive-bomb on people. The No. 15 (Bowyer) threw a dive bomb in there. I’m sure once he got in there (he) realized it wasn’t the best idea.

“It’s just unfortunate (when) something stupid, last-ditch effort, dive-bomb or something along those lines wipes you out. My frustration and certainly Jeff’s is to be the class of the field all day long and be up front and have something stupid like this take us out.”

Johnson noted the restarts at Martinsville are vulnerable.

“Once you come here enough and you get screwed a couple times, you realize it’s not the thing to do and every once in a while someone will try to take the carrot and it will end up in a crash,” Johnson remarked.

Gordon admitted he didn’t get the best restart.

“I spun the tires a slight bit,” explained Gordon, who finished 14th. “When I saw him (Bowyer) go down to the inside of me I knew we were all in trouble. All I could do was just hold on tight. The No. 48 [Johnson] couldn’t go anywhere; I couldn’t go anywhere. He was just coming with so much speed. I wasn’t expecting somebody to be shoved to the inside of me and take it three-wide.

“I was pretty mad at him (Bowyer), but after understanding what happened, I wouldn’t blame it on him. It’s still unfortunate; it doesn’t change things. We had a great race, a great race car and that is all we can do is hold our heads up high and go from here.”

Heading into the Easter break, Greg Biffle possesses a narrow six-point lead over Earnhardt Jr. in the driver standings. Stewart is third, Matt Kenseth fourth, Kevin Harvick fifth and Martin Truex Jr. sixth, all 12 points out of first.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 1 2012
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