How the race was won
Story of the race
Stewart "finally" sealing the deal after leading so many laps in the season's first five races. He and the No. 20 team have this ability to sometimes make dominance seem effortless.
The late battle between Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, who combined to lead 483 of 500 laps. It was like a slugfest, but (barely) without any punches below the belt. Great stuff.
Also, the fantastic finish that sort of/almost was.
Give 'em credit
Stewart aside, Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were solid. Very impressive recoveries from early (and for Junior, continuing) problems. It's not often that a car as beat up as the No. 8 was Sunday finishes in the top five.
Hendrick Motorsports. Four drivers in the top eight. Not bad. Especially nice rebound for Johnson (and Chad Knaus) after a miserable day at Bristol.
Other top-10 finishers like Elliott Sadler (who might have finished even better if not for a late mistake), and Kevin Harvick and Scott Riggs – both had solid runs. Jamie McMurray probably was hoping to compete for a win, but a top-10 is just what that team needed.
Nice effort out of Reed Sorenson. He's been overshadowed early in the rookie race, but that team has had only one really bad day and has put together a couple of solid runs lately.
What were they thinking?
Fox. More missed restarts. They're making an art of this. Also, it's hard not to show the leader crossing the line, but there were wild battles happening from second to fifth or so at that moment. Perhaps a split screen would have been a good option?
When racing on short tracks, it's sometimes hard to tell where the line is when it comes to bumping and banging. Stewart and Johnson were dangerously close to it when battling for the lead, but no harm, no foul. Ryan Newman slamming Dale Earnhardt Jr., on the other hand, seemingly crossed that line, though Junior took responsibility for that wreck after the race. And how often do you see rookies (Denny Hamlin) calling out veterans (Mark Martin)? There were other incidents (like Kurt Busch being a bit too aggressive or Matt Kenseth perhaps exacting a little revenge for Bristol), but most can just be chalked up to short track madness. It'll all calm down, for better or worse, at Texas.
Better luck next time
Dodge. After two straight wins, expectations had to be higher heading to Martinsville. End result: Just one driver in the top 10. A bit misleading, though, as both Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield had good days ruined by mechanical problems.
Kenseth was on his way to a solid top-10 before late problems, while teammate Greg Biffle just can't avoid trouble.
Ken Schrader was working on a top-10 or top-15 before the mechanical bug hit, and Jeff Green has quietly been putting together a decent season and was on his way to a solid day before hitting the wall after getting together with Sterling Marlin – who, incidentally, had a very nice weekend. Marlin was forced to qualify on speed on Friday and put himself sixth. Then he led nine laps Sunday and wound up 14th.
By the way ...
Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton – the latest feud? Or is it Busch and Yeley? There's still that Busch-Harvick thing, and it's hard to tell if all is square with Busch and Kenseth. See a common theme? Well, at least Rusty's a big fan. (To be fair, Busch still does try to say all the right things. And really, these battles do add spice to Sundays.)
Speaking of Busch, Harvick and Kenseth, it was fun to watch the three of them running together for a little while Sunday. Impressive that they kept it clean (and maybe ever so slightly disappointing, too).
The "Return to Martinsville" talk was limited to mentions of Ricky Hendrick's birthday, and that seemed about right. Nice effort from the Hendrick teams to honor those lost, and nice job by Stewart to mention Ricky Hendrick, Scott Lathram and Co. It felt like just the right amount of memorializing – honoring without dwelling.
Grading the race
It's amazing how a strong finish can save a race. Sunday's show was decent, but the cautions made it a bit drawn out – sometimes agonizingly so. Still, there were entertaining storylines and exciting battles, and the leaders running nose to tail four-deep in the closing laps ... well, it was wild. Ironically, cautions helped set up the great finish, but there was perhaps one too many. And while Gordon blew it off the line on the final restart, the battle for positions behind the leader was spectacular.
From the source
Tony Stewart: "We won a race today, guys. Next week we might fall on our face, next week we might win again. Who knows."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his crew ahead of a late pit stop: "I'm sorry about wrecking the car and all, but get me two spots here and I'll get the rest."