|Kenseth with new teammates Martin and Hamlin|
Kenseth was one of the few drivers who passed eventual winner Jimmie Johnson on the track and went on to lead for 96 laps. In the past Kenseth has made no secret of his dislike for Martinsville. But maybe it was the car and not the driver. His success in his first Martinsville race driving for Joe Gibbs Racings didn’t go unnoticed by Johnson, who said he thought at one point Kenseth would win the race. And when Denny Hamlin called the win by Johnson too easy – implying it would have been harder with him in the race – crew chief Chad Knaus responded with a backhanded slap at the Roush Fords.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s not Denny, it’s the Gibbs cars,” Knaus said. “I think it’s more car than driver here for that team. Look at Matt Kenseth. He couldn’t get out of his own way when he was in a Roush car here. He went out today and was making it happen.”
While Roush clearly remains the lead Ford team, they’ve been outrun at every race this year, except Phoenix, by the Fords of Roger Penske and on occasion even by those of Richard Petty Racing. That was true at Martinsville where Marcos Ambrose was second fastest qualifier and despite being caught up in the early wreck, finished ahead of the Roush cars.
It’s too early to draw any real conclusions about Roush and how the loss of Kenseth has hurt the team. Both Biffle and Edwards are currently ahead of Kenseth in points, but that’s mainly because Kenseth had engine problems at Daytona and was crashed out of Bristol while leading when Jeff Gordon blew a tire. Rookie Ricky Stenhouse is back in 15th, driving Kenseth’s old No. 17. Not bad for a rookie, but not what many were expecting from the two-time Nationwide champ making the jump to Cup.
But it is something to watch Saturday night in Texas. The Roush cars have always run well there, as they do on most intermediate tracks, with Biffle winning the spring race last year and all three Roush cars finishing in the top 10. It will be important for the team to post a good showing this year and an indicator to watch for the rest of the year.
The Races: A good Martinsville crowd watched Johnson lead for most of the race, but he didn’t totally dominate as he has in the past – Kenseth, Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch all appearing to be his equal at times. The best drive belonged to Danica Patrick (although I could have done without the announcers constantly telling me that). After going two laps down early, Patrick took advantage of some good pit strategy and then raced her way to a 12th place finish. She was also perhaps the first 12th place finisher ever to be brought into the press room after the race, an honor (?) normally afforded only the top three finishers…NASCAR’s future was on display in Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race. While Johnny Sauter, at the ripe old age of 31, won his second straight race and teammate Matt Crafton was second, they were followed by Jeb Burton (21) in third after setting a new track record in qualifying on the pole; Darrell Wallace, Jr. (19) in fifth; Chase Elliott (17) in sixth; Dakoda Armstrong (21) in seventh and Erik Jones (16) in ninth. Missing was Ryan Truex (21), who broke his collarbone when he fell off a motorcycle on Easter Sunday…Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay won the second IndyCar event of the year at Barber Motorsport Park outside Birmingham, Ala. The win was the second straight for Michael Andretti’s team and combined with last year’s title, further establishes his team on a par with those of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. The race also marked the return of A. J. Allmendinger. Dinger surprised many by qualifying and running in the top 10, before stalling his car in the pits and finishing 19th. It was also announced he will race for Roger Penske in Detroit the week after the Indy 500, along with previously announced rides at Long Beach and Indy.