2 April 2012
Newman steals win after late caution
After a routine race at Martinsville, the drama went into overdrive at the same moment the race went into overtime, thanks to David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer.
This year's Goody's Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race had been a rather quiet affair, as is usually the case with races held on the half mile Martinsville Speedway - the shortest and slowest of the venues visited by the series over the course of a season.
It had looked like it was going to turn out be a very good day indeed for Hendrick Motorsports, especially Jeff Gordon who had led 328 of the scheduled 500 lap race distance, the most anyone had led at Martinsville since Jimmie Johnson put in 339 laps in front way back in October 2008.
Johnson was at the front on Sunday, too, as was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a Hendrick 1-2-3; only the latest HMS recruit, Kasey Kahne, was missing from the team line-up as the end of the race approached, his Chevrolet engine having given up around the midway point of the race. It was just typical of the sort of horrible luck the youngster has been having in 2012 so far.
With Gordon taking the lead again with just four laps remaining - just over a minute of racing at these speeds - there was a sudden yellow flag being shown, after David Reutimann stalled his car on the front stretch after having been going slowly for several preceding laps. The Hendrick drivers couldn't believe it: why hadn't Reutimann simply pulled into pit road earlier? It wasn't like he was in any contention by this point of proceedings.
"I would like an explanation on why that happened, from him, his crew chief, somebody," fumed Earnhardt. "I would like to hear a good excuse, to be honest with you, because I'm sure it would be laughable.
"He was running around slow; you got a problem, you ... get down and get on pit road. I don't believe he had any trouble getting down," he added. "It doesn't seem like there could be a logical reason for him to end up stopped on the track."
"The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I didn't just 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," countered Reutimann afterwards. "It broke a tie rod or something like that. I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish the next couple of laps to try to stay in the top 35."
Reutimann is sharing the Tommy Baldwin Racing #10 Cup ride in 2012 with Danica Patrick, and the 35th place finish he ended up with at Martinsville does indeed drop the car out of the all-important top 35 in owner points for the next race. That the car will now have to qualify for each race on speed rather than be guaranteed entry on points: for a rookie like Patrick, that's a potentially huge problem.
They didn't know it yet, but Reutimann's attempt to limp around would end up costing the Hendrick squad the race. They would not be happy with Reutimann - and nor would NASCAR, who summoned the driver and his crew chief to the hauler after the race for a good talking-to about proper etiquette.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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