The racing at Martinsville on Sunday was much improved on both Martinsville races from the 2022 season, but wasn't a thriller by any means. It still did provide a lot of interesting storylines and was exciting throughout.
SHR Shows Speed
The biggest talking point from this weekend has to be Stewart Haas Racing. They showed speed from all four of their cars for the first time in years, with all four qualifying in the top 7. Ryan Preece took everyone by surprise by winning pole, and then lead every lap of the first stage. Aric Almirola wasn't far behind him, running top 5 most of the first stage. However, it was Chase Briscoe who had the best finish in 5th, and it looked like he may have won the race if he hadn't taken four tires on the last pit cycle. This was a much needed good run by him, as well as Almirola in 6th who has had a terrible start to the season. Aric had a best finish of 13th all season entering Martinsville.
Let's talk a little more about Preece. He shut up a lot of haters in the first stage, but threw it all away after getting a speeding penalty trying to win the race off pit road. Pretty disappointing for him, as he wasn't able to recover. He only managed 15th. Another day where Ryan had speed, but didn't get the result he needed to.
Kyle Larson Steals Another One
It's pretty funny that Larson has "backed" into two wins this season, since he's typically on the other side of these sorts of races. usually Kyle is the one that dominates, but a late caution or something prevents him from winning. Of course his win was all down to strategy, but he did have to fight for it with Joey Logano in the closing laps. Kyle joins teammate William Byron as the only two drivers with multiple wins this season. Hendrick now has won 4 of the last 7 races.
Chase Elliott's Return
Chase had a rough start to the weekend after qualifying 24th, and even dropped further than that at the start of the race. However, Elliott managed to recover brilliantly to a 10th place finish - not too shabby for his first race since Fontana nearly two months ago. Since he is the most popular driver and has some of the most lucrative sponsorship deals in the sport, it's probably not a stretch to say he was rushed back - so he probably wasn't feeling 100% today. At the very least, he would've been a little rusty.
I would have liked to see what Josh Berry Could have done in that car though, since Martinsville is probably his best track and he was finally getting comfortable with the Next Gen car. Anyways I'm glad to see Chase back in the seat, and it will be exciting to see if he's able to win his way into the playoffs.
JGR Finally Gets A Good Result
It took 9 races, but finally a Joe Gibbs Racing driver not named Christopher Bell has scored a top 5. Martin Truex Jr finished third, and was the fastest car on the last stint. With a caution or two, he may have easily won the race. Truex has had a tough year so far, so good to see him get a great result. Denny Hamlin finished one spot behind Truex in 4th after calling his shot last week on Action Detrimental, stating that his #11 team was going to go on a run starting at Martinsville. Bell had an uncharacteristic day and was pretty much nowhere, and only managed 16th. Ty Gibbs' top-10 streak ends at four after an 18th place finish on Sunday.
Highs And Lows.
I want to take a second to giving a round of applause to Ricky Stenhouse Jr and that entire JTG team. He just scored his 4th top-10 of the season, one shy of his total from last year. Not to mention he's on pace to crush his career record of nine top-10s in a single season. He currently boasts an average finish of 14.1, and outside of a tough outing at Richmond where he had mechanical problems, Ricky has one finish outside if the top-20. Good stuff Ricky.
Now on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Austin Cindric might have had (no exaggeration) the worst performance in Penske's history. On pure speed, he finished 33rd ahead of just the RWR cars and Live Fast. At beginning of the race, Joey was right back there with him but was able to recover remarkably to a 2nd place finish. Austin wasn't able to recover in any way. Cindric has had the most up and down season possible. He has 4 finishes outside of the top 25 on pure pace, but sprinkled in there he has two very strong 6th place finishes. It's just really hard ti tell if Cindric has "it" or not. One thing he clearly doesn't have is consistency. It is only his second year, but we saw this same story with Cole Custer. Hopefully it doesn't end the same way, but it looks awfully similar at the moment.