Tempers flare in playoffs
“He didn’t slam ya, or hit ya. He rubbed you. son! And rubbin’ is racin!”
This was a favorite line of mine from the movie “Days of Thunder.” This past weekend rubbin’ certainly was racin’ at the tough old short track. Martinsville’s half-mile race track is one of the oldest tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Kyle Petty said there are always bent fenders and hurt feelings there. He wasn’t wrong.
On Saturday, the Camping World Truck series ran the Texas Roadhouse 200, and as Martinsville races go it was very calm. Veterans Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter appeared to be the class of the field and each one captured a stage victory. When the race finally ended a rookie passed the veteran Crafton and held him off for the victory.
Eighteen-year-old Noah Gragson took his first win in the truck series. Crafton held on to finish second. Johnny Sauter finished third. Cup series veteran Jeff Burton’s son Harrison Burton finished a strong fourth.
Another second generation driver Todd Gilliland finished fifth. Todd is the son of David Gilliland, another Cup driver.
The next three races are all events that will feature triple-header formats with all the series competing. The trucks will run the Jog Metal’s 350 on Friday night at the mile and a half Texas Motor Speedway. Every lap and every point will make a difference as these top race teams fight to find out who will battle it out for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series took to the tight paperclip-shaped track. The First Data 500 would prove to be a rough and tumble race.
Kyle Busch was the name that came up in the garage area as the driver to beat. This proved to be true as Kyle took both of the first stage victories. Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano both ran up front but late race altercations took them out of a chance for the victory.
The major story involved Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. On a late race restart Chase found himself on the inside of race leader Keselowski. It was noted earlier that Chase was fighting a car that had a tendency to push out on the turns. He slid up into Keselowski and pushed him out of the groove.
Another caution flew for a different crash and this time Chase started on the front. Denny Hamlin positioned himself behind Elliott’s car and decided he would take out the leader. As the cars approached the third turn, Denny rammed into the back of Elliott’s car, lifting the rear wheels off the ground, and he pushed him into the corner until he spun out of control. This cost Elliott dearly, who was racing for not only his first Cup win but also a chance to be qualified for the final Playoff race at Homestead in a few weeks.
The crowd voiced their feelings and it appears that Chase may be the successor to the Jr. Nation fan base. The cheap shot that Hamlin used is not acceptable at any race track.
Kyle Petty said, “Not even at a local go-kart track would this be accepted.” Chase and Hamlin bumped together on the back straight after the race. Both drivers exited their cars and exchanged words.
Afterward Denny mentioned the fact that he “jacked him up” going into the turn. Chase showed a lot of class and maturity by first of all not punching him in the face on the back straight, and then making this statement on camera, “Momma always said if you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything. So, I’m saying it is what it is; now we need to go win at Texas.”
Kyle Busch moved teammate Hamlin up and made the pass for the victory on the overtime run to the finish. Martin Truex Jr. finished second for one of his best finishes at this track. Clint Bowyer finished third and Keselowski raced his way back to fourth. Kevin Harvick finished fifth.
Trevor Bayne missed the accident that was happening around him and finished sixth. Hamlin tangled with Ryan Blaney and caused a major crash which swept up about half the field. They finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.
It should be noted that several teams carried special pink paint schemes honoring Breast Cancer Awareness and the track painted the inner curbing it has in the turns pink. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s wife Amy and their unborn child drove the pace car to start Dale’s last Martinsville race and to honor her mom, who is a breast cancer survivor.
The Playoff race is tightening up and the teams move to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 on Sunday. The Xfinity teams had a weekend off and they will also be back in Playoff action at Texas in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on Saturday.
I’ll be traveling this weekend to Gaffney, South Carolina, and will get the opportunity to drive a winged sprint car with the Kenny Wallace Driving Experience. I plan to give you all the details in the next column. I’m really excited to get this chance and I’m sure at the end of the straightaway there will be Another Left Turn.