By Craig Murto
Jimmie Johnson may have dominated the action on the paperclip-shaped Martinsville Speedway, but the short track did not disappoint.
Johnson's eighth win places him third on the all-time Martinsville win list behind Richard Petty (15 wins) and Darrell Waltrip (11 wins). He qualified on the pole and led the most laps. But the beating and banging, frammin' and bangin' provided the most action the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has seen all season.
As predicted, there was a good crowd on hand, with seats sold at the last minute, perhaps to fans expecting to see a continuation of the Tony Stewart/Joey Logano feud. That never materialized, but there were some unhappy drivers at the end of the race, most notably Kevin Harvick, who for some unknown reason was angry with Brian Vickers.
Half the fans are upset with Vickers as they blame him for sending Danica Patrick into Dale Earnhardt Jr., although watching the replay it's obvious that Vickers was also rammed from behind by Aric Almirola, only proving that Patrick was at fault for causing the bottleneck.
Be that as it may, Patrick had an exceptional run and finished 12th on one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. It was her highest finish on a track that didn't use a restrictor plate, and she was the top rookie of the race.
Many fans believe that short track racing is the best as far as stock cars are concerned. In that regard we are lucky in Virginia, as we host two of the Cup Series' three short track events. In just a few weeks the series returns to Richmond for a NASCAR weekend that will include the Nationwide Series, K&N Pro Series east and the Denny Hamlin charity race for Late Models.
Many of the drivers in that Late Model race call South Boston Speedway their home. South Boston is the home track for many of NASCAR's top Weekly Racing Series competitors, including defending national champion Lee Pulliam and multi-time champ Philip Morris. The track is only a few hours down the road, and well worth a visit if you've never been to the historic facility. This Saturday the track hosts the NASCAR Southern Modified Tour for a 150-lap event, and has twin 75-lap features for Late Models.
Jeb Burton - son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton - cut his teeth racing Late Models at south Boston. He started on the pole for the Camping World Truck race at Martinsville and finished third. The race was won by Johnny Sauter, who leads the points with Burton - a rookie in the series - close behind.
Closer to home, Shenandoah Speedway opens Saturday night with Late Models and the Virginia Sprint Series. Now an IMCA-sanctioned series, few cars locally are as fast as the Virginia Sprint Series on pavement.
The Mason Dixon Micro Sprints are slated to run at Winchester Speedway on Saturday night. Last week, Pennsylvania dirt late Model veteran Gary Stuhler grabbed his 76th win at Winchester, beating J.T. Spence and Jamie Lathroum to the finish. Stuhler, a Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member, hadn't won at the track since 2008.
Some good local racing is out of state. Paul Cursey grabbed his first win in the Late Model Sportsman division at Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday night. Be sure to check hagerstownspeedway.com for the track's schedule of special events, including AMA flat-track motorcycle racing.
WERA motorcycles will be on the road course in Summit Point, W.Va., April 20-21. This coming weekend you can see SCCA Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series action Saturday and Sunday. If you've never been to a road course, you owe it to yourself to explore the racing at Summit Point. Take the time to walk as much of the course as possible and watch the action from various corners; turn one and the carousel are favorite spots. And Summit Point allows camping; it's always been a great place to make a weekend of it, camp out, enjoy some racing and yet not be too far from home.
Whatever you do in the coming weeks, be sure to attend a racing event. You can always record whatever races are on TV and watch them later. Honestly, once you enjoy the thrill of attending different forms of racing in person, TV just won't satisfy. Attend a local track - you won't be disappointed.
Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.