ThatsRacin

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway

They say time heals all wounds.

If so, it only seems appropriate that many of Hendrick Motorsports’ most significant NASCAR victories have been accompanied by a grandfather clock.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most recent HMS driver to add one of the unique Ridgeway clocks to his trophy case with a victory at iconic Martinsville Speedway in Sunday’s Goody’s 500.

His win came on the 10th anniversary of the crash of a Hendrick team plane that was on its way to the Martinsville race. All 10 on board were killed, including the brother, son and two nieces of team owner Rick Hendrick.

Martinsville was the site of Hendrick’s first win as an owner in the Sprint Cup Series in 1984, and in the 20 races held at the track since the tragedy, Hendrick drivers have won eight, including Earnhardt’s win Sunday.

“He said in an interview, if he wants to even come to this race, he doesn’t really know until he wakes up in the morning whether he’s going to go,” Earnhardt said of his owner. “So, when I saw him this morning, I was glad he came.

“I was so proud to be able to do that with my team and win this race on this challenging weekend for the company. I know it means a lot to them.

“They’re very hurt, and it’s a heavy heart that they carry all weekend, but they want to win the race.”

The victory could not salvage Earnhardt’s title hopes as he was eliminated from contention in NASCAR’s new Chase format last week at Talladega, Ala., but he said it helped remind his No. 88 team of its potential this season.

“You don’t have all these awesome years where you’re piling up wins, just hitting homers every week. I think the older you get, you definitely come to appreciate how challenging it is,” said Earnhardt, who won for the fourth time this season.

“There’s a lot of people that wrote us off, wrote me off. Even after winning Daytona (this season), even after Pocono, people said, ‘He probably won’t win no more.’ ”

The victory did not come easy.

Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 454 from Clint Bowyer, and as the race drew to a close, he appeared to be in good position to earn the win.

A wreck involving Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Larson on Lap 489 of 500 bunched the field and brought the race briefly to a halt as a red flag was displayed to clean the track of debris.

When the race returned to caution, most lead-lap cars elected to pit, including Earnhardt, but three remained on the track and Tony Stewart inherited the lead.

On the restart, Earnhardt lined up fifth, the first car to take four new tires. It took just one lap for Earnhardt to get around Stewart for the lead, and Earnhardt held off teammate Jeff Gordon for the win.

Ryan Newman finished third, Stewart was fourth and Joey Logano was fifth.

As an extra bonus for HMS, Gordon took over the series points lead and holds a three-point advantage over Newman with two races left before the four-driver championship field is set at Homestead, Fla.

“Certainly a great day for Hendrick Motorsports. We know how much Martinsville means to us,” Gordon said. “Paying tribute to those folks we lost here 10 years ago by doing a 1-2 finish is really something.

“I know how many fans were really excited to see Dale Jr. win, and himself, too. They did a great job. So did our team. It’s a great way to come out of here.”

With the victory, Earnhardt denied any of the eight remaining drivers still in the Chase a chance to clinch a berth in the Nov. 16 championship series finale.

“We were the 16th seed (in the Chase) coming in without a win,” Newman said. “We’ve not won yet. We were tied for the lead in the points with four races to go.”

“So, mathematically, it has played to my advantage, as others, but probably mine mostly.”

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