Denny Hamlin didn’t do anything wrong. Chase Elliott has the right to be fired up. And NASCAR needs to sit back and let it all play out.
What happened Sunday evening at Martinsville Speedway produced an electrified atmosphere the likes of which I haven’t felt at a NASCAR race in quite a while. Well, not since Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano were involved in the crash heard ’round the world at the very same race track two years ago.
Standing on a frigid pit road after the checkered flag had fallen, the chorus of boos (for Hamlin) and the cheers (for Elliott) that enveloped the half-mile facility was enough to warm up the night. The drama was high, the fans were thunderous and the drivers were the central characters in what has been the best race and story line the NASCAR postseason has had. It was short-track racing at its finest.
Apology aside, Hamlin did what he had to do. Sitting in front of him was the chance to lock up a spot at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and had he not tried to grab it, Hamlin would’ve always regretted it. His actions were a direct result of what the current NASCAR championship format – win and advance – was meant to produce.
It wasn’t that long ago when NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France talked about “Game 7 moments”. And after the spin for the win between Logano and Kenseth at Kansas Speedway in 2015, he famously called it “quintessential NASCAR.”
This is a contact sport. Some of the so-called greatest moments of the sport involve drivers getting into each other. Dale Earnhardt Sr. made a career out of doing that. Martinsville and Bristol Motor Speedway are both advertised as a place where tempers will flare while cars get torn up.
Elliott doesn’t have to like it and he can claim he might not race someone the same way, but the stakes were high at Martinsville. Win, and automatically race for the biggest prize in the sport in three weeks in south Florida.
When Joey Logano brought out the caution inside the final 10 laps and stacked the field back up two-by-two, what else did you expect to happen thereafter? There was going to be contact, and lots of it.
Elliott ran Brad Keselowski up the track in Turn 3, Hamlin wrecked him in the same place a lap later, and on the final restart, Hamlin was shoved out of the way by his own teammate, Kyle Busch.
Then there was Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney bickering. Kurt Busch expressed on Twitter his “frustration giggling” after being involved in the crash; coming to the finish line to find that his radiator pan was still stuck in the Turn 4 wall.
Can’t keep from frustration giggling. The above ??is the radiator pan stuck in the turn 4 wall. WTF. Is everybody as frustrated as I am?!?! pic.twitter.com/boTtf4Xxnm
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) October 30, 2017
When the cars came down pit road after the race, the number of bent fenders, torn-off sheet metal and displeased-looking drivers would put any Saturday night demolition derby to shame.
“It’s just Martinsville. That’s what it’s all about. It’s championship time. It’s time to get physical,” Harvick said. “Bent fenders, hurt feelings. I love it.”
As do I, and there needs to be more of it. It’s quite refreshing to be talking about on-track action instead of inspection issues, policing burnouts and lug nuts.