After crisscrossing the country twice in the last three weeks the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to its roots at Martinsville Speedway. It's both the oldest and the shortest track on the schedule and gives the fans a blast from the past -- fender-banging, short-track racing.
But while the .542-mile paperclip-shaped flat track may be short on length it certainly was long on storylines, including a wild finish and what could have been an historic win by Hendrick Motorsports. But the dream 1-2-3 finish ended in a heap to give the race a surprise winner in Ryan Newman in the longest race in Martinsville Speedway history -- 515 laps for a scheduled 500-lap contest.
So let's get right to five things we learned from NASCAR at Martinsville.
Gordon had led 328 laps and Johnson was in front for 112 but when the green flag dropped, Newman ran into the back of Clint Bowyer's Toyota. That sent Bowyer into a three-wide scenario in Turn 1. Bowyer's car ran into the side of Gordon's Chevy which sent it into Johnson's Chevy, all but ending any chances those cars had at winning the race.
Gordon's car ran out of fuel in the ensuing yellow flag laps and he would finish 14th. Johnson finished 12th and Bowyer 10th.
That left the unlikely duo of Newman and A.J. Allmendinger to fight it out in a green-, white-, checkered-flag finish with Newman scoring his first Martinsville win, the 16th of his Cup career in 374 starts.
The third Hendrick car was driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who had some choice words to say about Reutimann in the closing laps and after the race.
"That was really (crappy) Reutimann drove around broke for five laps and they never threw the caution," Earnhardt said afterward. "That's chicken (bleep) if you ask me."
SI.com asked Earnhardt to further explain Reutimann's impact on the end of Sunday's race in the post-race media conference.
"Well, I would like an explanation on why that happened, from him, his crew chief, somebody," Earnhardt said. "It doesn't seem like there could be a logical reason for him to end up stopped on the track. He was running around slow; you got a problem, you really get down and get on pit road. I don't believe he had any trouble getting down. When we went by him the first time he was low. I would like to hear a good excuse to be honest with you; because I'm sure it would be laughable."
Reutimann attempted to explain his side afterward.
"I don't even know how the race ended up finishing, but I just hate that I was involved in anything that changed the complexion of the race so I got to apologize to the guys that it affected," Reutimann said. "I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish next couple of laps to try to stay in the top 35. Then the motor had been breaking up for the last couple of laps. It broke a timing belt or whatever down the back straightaway, and the motor just quit.
"I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack. I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do. The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn't stop there intentionally. I know it sucks. I hate it for everybody that it affected, but I mean I can't get out and push the thing. You know, it shut off. It's that simple."
And that left none other than Newman as the race winner, giving Stewart-Haas Racing it's second victory in a row after owner/driver Tony Stewart won last week's rain-shortened contest at Fontana. Newman overcame an early speeding penalty that put him one lap down.
"We were fortunate to be in the right place at the wrong time after being in the wrong place at the wrong time so many times before," Newman said. "At least we were able to balance it out today. I thought it was a good race. That is short track racing. Today we didn't have a dominant race car but we put ourselves in position to win the race. We've got a good, strong start to the season at Stewart-Haas Racing and that makes a difference. We proved we are capable of doing a lot."
Between Gordon and Johnson they entered the race with 140 of Hendrick's 199 victories in the Cup Series. But neither driver could crack the top 10 after they were both involved in the late-race incident.
"I really thought we had a chance to get Rick Hendrick his 200th win today," Johnson said. "I'm really glad I talked to him before talking to you guys. He told me the 39 (Newman) got into him at the start and that is what turned him into us. That is just the way our year has gone."
Gordon led 328 laps of the 515 in the race, while Johnson led 112 laps.
"When you run all day and your cars are running like that and it's just a few laps to go ... if that doesn't bother you, you shouldn't do this anymore," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "I think it doesn't last quite as long. I love to see our guys run this good, Kasey was up there and had a freak problem with that car. It wasn't mean to be. This was a track that I really wanted to get that win and Cathy Hendrick was here today and Jan Jackson and a lot of those folks that hadn't been back since the accident. WE all wanted it back today. It wasn't meant to be.
"We had a lot of people here, the family members, the first time they've been back to this racetrack, so we really wanted to win this one today. If the guy had pitted with the 10 car when he had the problem instead of riding around, I think we would have finished 1-2-3.''
"We worked really hard all day, all weekend really we worked hard to obviously get the best finish we could," Earnhardt said. "I thought our car was great, really comfortable and doing everything I wanted it to do. It was a really, really fun race. I was really happy with how the race was playing out there until the end."
Earnhardt appears to be getting closer to ending his dreadfully long winless streak which now stands at 135 races. But more importantly, Earnhardt is showing some much-needed consistency and that will serve him well through the rest of the season.
"It was a bad situation for everybody," Bowyer said afterward. "I don't know what the hell the 10 car was doing. He drove around for 10 laps and then just stopped. We should have easily had a fourth-place finish. If I hadn't gone down there the 39 was. It was an issue fighting for real estate. Jeff Gordon and I are fine. It was a bad deal for him, too."
"I am upset that we haven't run great this year, but we are great on Friday and Saturday, we were fast again today, and we have the speed so when it's our time we will be ready to take advantage of it," Kahne said. "It was fun driving and we had a small engine problem that turned into a big one on the backstretch and just shut off and I had oil on my tires when I hit pit road."
Kahne has quite a bit of ground to make up when the series resumes in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway if he is going to live up to the lofty expectations at Hendrick Motorsports. He is 133 points behind points leader Greg Biffle and 96 out of the Chase (10th place in the standings).