Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – Brake check? What brake check?
After Monday’s snow-delayed STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, fifth-place finisher Kevin Harvick pleaded innocent to an intentional brake check of fellow veteran Denny Hamlin late in the event won by Clint Bowyer.
“No, he hit me a couple times and I was just trying to make sure I had my car under control,” said Harvick, who slowed in front of Hamlin enough to damage the nose of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota when the trailing driver couldn’t stop quickly enough.
When Hamlin bumped the No. 4 Ford, it was payback for similar treatment from Harvick, who was unabashed in his explanation of the initial contact with Hamlin’s car.
“He was on the bottom, and I knocked him out of the way,” Harvick said.
When Hamlin returned the favor and bumped Harvick, he got more than he bargained for.
“He just got to me and, I think, bumped me three or four times,” Hamlin said. “And then I was just bumping him back and he brake-checked me. I probably should have brake-checked him in the first place.
“They were just some light bumps here, and then slammed on the brakes. So classy.”
The damage to Hamlin’s car ruined a promising start at one of the driver’s best tracks. Hamlin made an extra pit stop to check for possible overheating of his car and dropped to 15th for a restart on Lap 392.
After leading 111 laps and winning the first stage of the race, Hamlin finished 12th.
ALEX BOWMAN LEADS CHEVY BRIGADE WITH SEVENTH-PLACE RUN
It was a solid, gratifying day for Alex Bowman, who took over the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet from retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season.
No, Bowman wasn’t a contender for the victory in Monday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch settled that issue, with Bowyer coming out on top.
But Bowman improved from a 16th-place starting position to seventh at the finish in a car that improved steadily throughout the day. His car was the highest-finishing Chevrolet in the race.
“I felt like I had some good observations after second practice (on Saturday) on some things I wanted to change, and they seemed to pay off big during the race,” Bowman said. “Or at least be the right direction during the race.
(Crew chief) Greg (Ives) just made really good adjustments. Every stop we got better. We had solid pit stops all day, the pit crew worked really hard – just good decisions on top of the box and a good race car.”
If Bowman had picked a track to produce his first top 10 of the season, Martinsville would have been an unlikely candidate.
“I mean Daytona, and then, if not Daytona, then Atlanta, and then if not Atlanta, Phoenix,” Bowman said. “I mean we’re here to win races every week. To take this long to get a top 10, it’s not what we wanted at all, but glad we are going the right way.”
ALLMENDINGER GETS SEASON-BEST FINISH AT ONE OF HIS BEST TRACKS
AJ Allmendinger couldn’t run with the contenders in Monday’s STP 500, but at least he could see them through his windshield.
Allmendinger hadn’t sniffed a top 10 since running 10th in the Daytona 500, but in the snow-delayed race, he had a strong enough No. 37 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet to fight his way toward the front, even after losing spots to comparable cars on pit road.
Allmendinger, who has two runner-up finishes at the .526-mile short track, once again demonstrated he has a knack for the tricky paper-clip-shaped circuit. He finished eighth, second-best among Chevrolet drivers.
On the final green-flag run, Allmendinger complained that his car was bouncing, but he persevered.
“We still got a top 10 out it, ran in the top 10 all day and were able to start 25th and pass a lot of cars,” Allmendinger. “Solid day, what we needed at one of our better racetracks.
“These are the places we know that we have a better chance at, and we have to take advantage of it. So I would say I’m OK with eighth. I wish we could have got a little bit more at the end of the race there, but a solid day all around.”