On a day that saw Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson dominate much of the race, it was Ryan Newman in the Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet and Stewart-Haas Racing who took the victory in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
With his 16th career victory, Newman moves to eighth in the Sprint Cup standings as racers take the Easter weekend off before running under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway on April 14.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne started on pole with the Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet and, defending race winner Kevin Harvick in the Budweiser Chevrolet, started on the outside of the front row.
Harvick would get the lead on the opening lap and drive away from Kahne and others, leading the first 22 laps of the race. Gordon, who led both practices on Friday, but only qualified ninth, took the lead from Harvick and took charge, looking for his eighth Martinsville victory.
Gordon, who led a race-high 328 laps, saw his greatest challenge coming from his protégé and six-time Martinsville winner, Johnson. With 144 laps remaining, Johnson took the lead from Gordon, after starting 22nd and sustaining a pit-road speeding penalty earlier in the race.
Gordon and Johnson led 440 of 515 laps in the race, but, a late-race caution caused by David Reutimann’s stopped car with four laps remaining in the scheduled 500-lap race, led to heartbreak. The teammates were battling hard to win the 200th race for car owner Rick Hendrick.
Pit strategy saw the eleven remaining lead-lap drivers pit behind the two leaders, which caused chaos. On tires with over 130 laps of wear and low fuel, Gordon and Johnson were in trouble. The ensuing green-white-checkered restart saw Gordon and Johnson struggle for grip, while Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer got a huge run (with a little bump from Newman) on the inside. The ensuing contact saw Gordon, Johnson, and Bowyer spin out and lose their chances at victory.
Newman was the beneficiary, along with Penske Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger, who has struggled early in 2012 with a new ride. Starting first and second on the second green-white-checkered restart, Newman and Allmendinger raced clean and gave each other room, but Newman had the line and the car to win.
Behind Newman were Allmendinger, with a career-best second, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Matt Kenseth, and New Jersey’s Martin Truex, Jr. rounding out the top five. Positions 6-10 were Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Bowyer. Johnson bounced back for a 12th place finish and Gordon finished 14th.
In the points, Greg Biffle continues to lead, but the gap has decreased to six over Earnhardt, Jr. Stewart, Kenseth, Harvick, and Truex, Jr. are tied for third, twelve behind Biffle.