Sunday’s race at Martinsville was delayed until Monday afternoon due to snow and inclement weather conditions. Qualifying was cancelled on Saturday because of the snow, so the field was lined up in order of owner points standings. This would put Martin Truex Jr. on the pole for the third consecutive week, giving him a great starting spot to attempt to win for the second week in a row. But it wouldn’t be Truex that would park his car in victory lane at the end of the day. Instead, it would be someone who hadn’t been to victory lane in 190 consecutive races.
The stage kicked off with Truex Jr. on the pole with Kyle Busch on the other side of the front row. Busch allowed Truex Jr. to get in front of him off the restart, but he ran him down and took the lead after just five laps.
Denny Hamlin drove his way up from his sixth starting position to take the lead from Busch on lap 28. From there Hamlin led the rest of the way until the competition caution came out at lap 50. The competition caution was set due to the track being unusable the previous day and a half.
On pit road teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola collided, resulting in damage for both. Almirola was forced to return to pit road to pull his fender off the tire and restart at the rear of the field. Harvick was able to continue without another pit stop.
The remainder of the stage was led by Hamlin until he was challenged in the final laps. Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Busch all ran down Hamlin as he was stuck in lap traffic. On the last lap of the stage, Hamlin almost wrecked the lapped car of Harrison Rhodes as he was trying to hold back his competitors.
He held on to win the stage with Keselowski second, Blaney third, and Kyle Busch fourth. AJ Allmendinger finished the stage seventh, earning his first stage points of the season. Jimmie Johnson stole the final stage point as he fought off Truex Jr. to the end of the stage.
To start the second stage, Ryan Blaney won the race off of pit road to restart first, with Hamlin second. Off the restart Hamlin easily came away with the lead. But after just a few laps Blaney battled back on the inside and wrestled the lead away from Hamlin.
The rest of the stage went on caution free with Blaney firmly in charge for the majority of it. With around 20 laps to go in the stage, Clint Bowyer sliced his way through traffic and caught Blaney.
For the last 20 laps of the stage, Blaney and Bowyer battled to get through lap traffic. Blaney was able to navigate the lap cars better and end the stage with the lead just ahead of Bowyer.
Once again Allmendinger finished inside the top-10, in eighth, gaining his second helping of stage points on the day. Jimmie Johnson had to fight off Paul Menard in the dying laps of the stage to finish 10th again and earn one stage point.
To kick off the final stage, Blaney started first and boldly choose the outside line, leaving Kyle Busch the inside. The inside line had been the preferred line all day but Blaney believed in his speed and pulled away on the outside.
After a handful of laps Clint Bowyer made his way up to Blaney and took the lead away. Blaney’s car began to struggle and he slid back to the fifth position.
After a long green flag run went on, pit stops were fast approaching. Right before they began, Jamie McMurray brought out the caution on lap 384. Austin Dillon slid up the race track and got into McMurray, spinning him into the outside wall. Daniel Suarez couldn’t avoid the mess and collided with Dillon, sustaining significant damage.
Hamlin was forced to re-pit under the caution because Kevin Harvick brake checked him prior the caution, resulting in damage to the nose of his car.
On the restart, Clint Bowyer pulled away with Kyle Busch escaping in second.
With 43 laps to go, Trevor Bayne slapped the outside wall but was able to limp his way back to pit road, keeping the race under green.
For the last 43 laps, Clint Bowyer led the field with Kyle Busch stalking him in his tire tracks. Unfortunately for Busch, he wasn’t able to catch Bowyer, and finished second for the third time in the last four races.
With the win, Bowyer snapped a personal 190 race winless streak, the third longest in NASCAR history. He also led a race-high 215 laps enroute to the victory. He led more laps at the Paperclip on Monday than he had in his previous 159 starts.
Bowyer becomes the fourth driver this season to punch his ticket to the playoffs along with Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle Busch takes over the points lead as NASCAR heads into their Easter bye week. The following week they head to Texas Motor Speedway on April 8th.
Featured image courtesy of motorsport.com and LAT Images
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