Melillo’s Mind: STP 500


By Justin Melillo

March 26, 2018


It’s been almost five and a half years since Clint Bowyer last won a race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but that losing streak ended on Monday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway.


Bowyer led 215 laps and held off Kyle Busch through the thick of the traffic to win his first Grandfather clock in the STP 500.


“This place is an acquired taste,” Bowyer said. “When I first got here I was a duck out of water just like everybody else that starts here at first.


“I learned from Jimmie Johnson and learned from Jeff Gordon, sometimes the hard way, but nonetheless I learned over the years and finally put it to good use.”


Busch was once again the bridesmaid after it was all said and done, picking up his third runner-up finish as he still hasn’t found Victory Lane in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in 2018.


“We have to keep executing and doing a good job,” Busch said. “That’s what we’re doing right now, it’s just not working our way.


“The M&M’s Caramel Camry was really close today. It wasn’t as good in practice. I thought we were better today than we were in practice, so that’s an improvement.”


Ryan Blaney was the third-place finisher on Monday, collecting a stage win and leading 145 laps during the event.


“I think the track tightened up a good bit there towards the end and we just got a little bit behind,” Blaney said. “Congrats to Clint for winning that race.


“It was fun racing with him for a bit, but for us to come out of here and lead a bunch of laps, win a stage and run third here at Martinsville, where I usually run terrible, that says a lot about this team and the preparation that they did getting ready for this race.”


MY THOUGHTS

You had to have known that when Clint Bowyer finally broke through, it was going to be a memorable celebration.


Bowyer started off his burnout celebration by spinning out at speed in the corner, then followed it up by getting on top of his car’s roof and jumping off into his crew members (while leaving a pretty big dent), and ended it off by asking the fans in the stands and anyone else he could talk to for a beer.


Bowyer got his beer, and I’m sure that was only the beginning of the victory celebration.


Not winning for 190 straight races might do that to anyone, especially the party animal that Bowyer is known to be.


Stewart-Haas Racing now has four wins out of six in 2018, and had Aric Almirola not gotten dumped by Austin Dillon at Daytona, we might be talking about five wins out of six.


Stewart-Haas surely looks like the team to beat this early in the season.


Tempers simmered throughout the event, with the most notable scuffle being between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.


Hamlin won Stage 1, but fell back later in the event. Hamlin was working his way back to the front when he met up with Harvick, and the two did not play nice.


The end result was Harvick brake-checking the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and essentially eliminating the FedEx machine from contending for the victory.


We also saw more signs of life from the Chevrolet camp again, with Alex Bowman carrying the banner for the Camaro ZL1 at the end of the day with a seventh-place finish.


A.J. Allmendinger and Chase Elliott finished eighth and ninth, respectively, making it a total of three Chevys in the top 10 for the event.


Ford has clearly been the dominant car this season so far, but Toyota has been close behind. Chevrolet, on the other hand, have not been close, but as more Camaros congregate in the top 10, eventually they will move toward the top five, and sooner or later, will find their way to Victory lane in a convincing performance.


Enjoy the Easter weekend off, NASCAR fans! The series returns in less than two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.


If Kevin Harvick isn’t up front and absolutely destroying the field, look for Kyle Busch or Martin Truex, Jr. to take control and wind up in Victory Lane.

IMAGES

Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Austin McFadden/TRE Joshua A. Hill/TRE


SOURCES

Ford Performance

Racing-Reference.info

Toyota Racing