Dale Earnhardt Jr. charges on final restart, wins at Martinsville

7 Comments

A decision to pit with less than 10 laps to go has yielded perhaps one of the most emotional victories ever for both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports.

Under caution, Earnhardt was among several leaders that decided to get fresh tires in advance of a five-lap sprint to the checkered flag. He took the last restart in fifth place, but sliced through his rivals, passed Tony Stewart for the lead with three to go, and won the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

It’s Earnhardt’s first victory ever at NASCAR’s oldest track, and the sport’s most popular driver celebrated as boisterously as we’ve ever seen him do so following a Sprint Cup win.

Earnhardt got out of his car, climbed onto the mobile stage at the start/finish line, and jumped up and down with No. 88 crew members as the Ridgeway grandfather clock – the traditional trophy for all Martinsville winners – wobbled next to them.

“We’ve tried to win here so many years,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “This place is so special to me. I’ve wanted to win here so bad…Real emotional win. This team on pit road was great and [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and the guys just did a great job all day.

“They gave me a great shot at the end with the call to take tires. I can’t believe we’ve won here. It means so much to all of us.”

The win takes on even more poignancy this weekend as it comes on the 10-year anniversary of the plane crash that took such a heavy toll on the Hendrick team and occurred a short distance away from Martinsville Speedway.

Earnhardt was not a member of HMS at the time of the tragedy. But in Victory Lane, he remembered the environment that emerged following it.

“I just wanted to support Hendrick Motorsports during that time…Everybody in the garage at that time was wearing Hendrick hats. The whole sport had come together,” he said.

“I lost my Daddy a long time ago and I know how hard that is. I can’t imagine losing the magnitude of people that [team owner] Rick [Hendrick] lost. My heart goes out to him during this weekend…This honors them. I’m real proud to be able to win at Martinsville in a Hendrick car.”

Perhaps even bigger for the team, HMS claimed a 1-2 finish this afternoon as Jeff Gordon finished second behind Earnhardt.

The final outcome started to take shape when Kyle Larson and Marcos Ambrose spun out and crashed with 11 laps to go while Earnhardt was in the lead.

NASCAR chose to throw its second red flag of the afternoon for cleanup and to save as much of the remaining laps as possible. But that decision caused the leaders to weigh staying out for track position against pitting.

Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan opted to stay out, while Earnhardt, Gordon, and Clint Bowyer chose to go in for service. Bowyer won the race out of the pits ahead of Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin and Gordon, but Stewart, Stenhouse and Ragan moved up to the Top 3 with Bowyer in fourth and Earnhardt in fifth.

With five laps left, the green flag came out again – and Earnhardt and Gordon made their surge. Then with three to go, Earnhardt got by Stewart on the inside off Turn 4 for the race-winning pass.

Chase contender Ryan Newman finished third, followed by Stewart in fourth and another Chaser, Joey Logano, in fifth.

Since a non-Chase competitor won today (Earnhardt was eliminated from the Chase last week at Talladega), it ensures that at least two of the eight remaining Chasers will make the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on points.

Gordon assumes the top spot on the Chase Grid with a seven-point cushion over the Championship cutoff. Newman, by virtue of his third-place result today, is now second on the Grid with a four-point cushion. Logano (+3 points) is in third, and Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth today, holds the final spot by two points over eighth-place finisher Hamlin.

Three of the Eliminator 8 swallowed sub-par results and thus got out to tough starts in the Eliminator Round. Carl Edwards’ 20th-place finish sticks him sixth on the Grid at 15 points behind the cutoff, but crashes for Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have them further down at 26 and 28 points back respectively heading for Texas Motor Speedway next weekend.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT MARTINSVILLE – Unofficial Race Results

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.