The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s insane playoff race at Martinsville Speedway…

1. Fair game?

Denny Hamlin is now Public Enemy No. 1 in NASCAR for the rest of this season after wrecking the popular Chase Elliott out of the lead at Martinsville. The fans booed him vociferously after his image appeared on the screen following the race, then cheered loudly when Elliott’s face popped up instead.

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember these incidents are often viewed through a different lens depending on which drivers are involved. If Kyle Busch got wrecked, for example, many fans wouldn’t feel as angry as they do now.

But the very worthy debate in the aftermath (tune in to Sirius/XM this week if you want your fill!) will be whether what Hamlin did was fair game.

Do you think it was? If so, do you feel the same about what Elliott did to Brad Keselowski just moments earlier?

No? Well, here’s the thing. Both drivers were likely attempting to do the same thing. I say “likely” because Hamlin insisted afterward he was not trying to wreck Elliott — he was trying to move him up the track, just like Elliott did to Keselowski — and I’m leaning toward believing him.

Was Hamlin guilty of poor execution? Indeed. But I’d imagine it’s a very fine line when a driver tries to move someone out of the way and ends up turning them instead.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if Hamlin wasn’t telling the truth (I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded that much if Elliott’s spin resulted in Hamlin winning the race and going to Homestead), isn’t that just part of the playoffs?

After all, this is the situation all drivers find themselves in! This is exactly what NASCAR wanted when it created the elimination playoff format.

Winning is everything! Game 7 moments! No more talk about “good points days.”

So aren’t drivers sort of supposed to do whatever they can to win in that situation?

People will say, “Well it doesn’t take any talent to wreck someone for the win.” Very true! And it’s not classy or sportsmanlike or anything like that.

Buuuuut…if wrecking someone for the win gets you to the championship, isn’t it worth it?

That’s up to each driver’s personal code, but they can probably live with the boos and the bad publicity for awhile if they end up with the trophy in the end. Elliott himself almost wrecked Keselowski in the same way Hamlin got him — and would you have blamed Elliott?

Look, NASCAR has changed. This format rewards dirty racing over clean racing. It just does. So whether or not Hamlin meant to outright wreck Elliott or just move him out of the way, would you honestly do it differently if you had the chance?

2. Busch is Back

Remember when Kyle Busch couldn’t win a race in the playoffs? Those pre-2015 days are a distant memory now, because Busch is back in the championship race and a serious threat to win another title.

When Busch is on the ropes, like he was heading into the elimination race of Round 2, and escapes? That’s incredibly dangerous for the rest of the field. You can’t give Busch a second life like that. Now, just a week later, he’s already capitalized by putting himself into the final four.

That’s really bad news for the rest of the field.

3. Second-guessing, Part I

This is professional sports, so unfortunately that comes with some second-guessing. In this case, it’s worth wondering if Keselowski made the wrong move by picking the outside line on what looked like would be the final restart.

Yes, Keselowski made that move work earlier in the race by beating teammate Joey Logano down the backstretch. But did Keselowski out-think himself in this case?

In a moment with everything on the line at Martinsville, Keselowski opened the door for Elliott to run side by side with him — which turned out to be an invitation for a hungry young driver to knock him up the track. If Keselowski had been on the inside, would that have happened?

4. Second-guessing, Part II

Speaking of Team Penske-related second-guesses, driver/PR guy Ryan Ellis brought up a great point on Twitter: Why in the world didn’t Penske have Joey Logano pit with his severe tire rub?

Think about it: With smoke billowing out of the rear tire after contact from Busch, it was only a matter of the time before the tire blew. Everyone at Martinsville and watching on TV could see that.

But at that moment, Keselowski was leading the race and en route to a victory he had called a must-win after Talladega. So why not have Logano pit and change the tire? It’s not like Logano was racing for anything but a win, the chances of which had severely been diminished.

5. How great is Martinsville?

There’s so much more to talk about after this race, and that’s because of Martinsville. God, I love this place so much.

Seriously, this is the best track in NASCAR. It always comes through with some sort of excitement. And it’s not just about the wrecks; the entire race was very compelling with close-quarters racing and drama.

It’s such a crime NASCAR doesn’t have more short tracks. It hurts to think how much different NASCAR would be today if all the 1.5-mile tracks were short tracks and the intermediate track racing was the style we only saw a few times a year.

Maybe those track owners considering converting their boring 1.5-mile tracks into rovals should find a way to build short tracks in their infields instead.


54 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race”

  1. Straight up the difference between chases move on Brad and Dennys move on Chase comes down to one thing. Chase was able to move brad after brad left himself open to the contact after he took the high side, and he NEVER wrecked him.

    Denny went 100% into the corner knowing that chase was going into the wall, he never gave him a chance to save the car.

    For as good of a short track racer Denny claims to be he sure doesn’t understand what a bump and run really looks like.

    1. BK is ab experienced driver and knew how to handle it, Chase didn’t because he’s young and inexperienced. He’ll learn.

  2. If Denny had moved Kyle, he would have been a hero. I think it was just racing and going for the win.

  3. Hamlin is a dirty driver…always has been…with his whiny “it’s everyone’s elses fault not mine” attitude. Hate Hamlin.

    1. How is denny a dirty driver? I can’t think of one other incident (other than logano at Bristol).

        1. Harvick, Danica…etc. Let us not do your homework for you. Look it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are many. But I will not tell!

  4. Just good hard racing. Don’t care who the drivers involved are. Take your pick of drivers from the beginning of NASCAR, to some a move like that will make you the greatest driver ever and others will label you public enemy #1.

  5. I love Martinsville Speedway! I have always loved short track racing. I’ve been a fan of Nascar for over 20 something years, with that being said, I don’t mind when a driver goes for the win, in fact I enjoy seeing any driver that’s in second place when the race is on the line, or when a chance for a championship is on the line. Here’s what I’m upset about! I’m upset because, Time & time again as I watch these races I listen to these drivers say in their interviews with the Analysts such as ( Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett) When asked “ What are you prepared to do to win this race Today?” And the Driver answers” I’d wreck my momma if I have too”! And when we have a driver like a Brad K., Denny Hamlin & Kyle B. Who isn’t afraid to move another driver out of the way or wreck someone for the win then we as fans, & Analysts think they went to far!
    I’m so frustrated because as a long time fan, because to me that’s why Nascar has lost so many of its long time fans, because the drivers didn’t go for the win, they were just satisfied with a second – tenth place finish!
    Back in the 70’s & 80’s drivers & teams had to to go for the win, their lively hood depended on it! That’s how they made it! If your team didn’t win your sponsor wasn’t happy & they left for a better team! So if you were running second you did everything you could to move the guy out of the way!
    Furthermore, does anyone remember what happened to Matt Kenneth when we was wrecked by Joey L. And then came back on the track & wrecked him! Matt Kenneth was Parked for two races for wrecking a chance driver! Well I just wonder if Chance Elliot will receive the same punishment for coming back on the track & using his car and wrecking a chase driver! My guess is Nascar will give yet another pass to the Hendrick Motorsport team! As they have in the past!

    1. Jamie GLOCK. Keep it real, or you sound like a whiner! JOEY DID NOT WRECK MATT. If you want your argument to stand, keep to the truth. Matt dove down on him and Matt spun, no damage and he finished P12 or 14. The week before Matty did the same thing to RYAN NEWMAN, RYAN did the same thing as Logano and held his line, it did not work out for MATTY, he got a DNF. See the difference? Matty was his own worst enemy. Please rewatch bot races on YOUTUBE, if you are honest with yourself, you will see NEWMAN and LOGANO were not at fault. MATTY WAS. Matty becoming unglued and mentally deranged at Martinsville while Logano was going for win 7 that year however is 100 percent Matty’s fault. Not NASCAR, not Joey. MATTY. Be honest!

  6. What Denny did was what you expect out of a young gun trying to make a name for hims self not a veteran of the sport. He didn’t even try to pass. He just dumped him. It takes ZERO talent to dump someone

  7. #5 is the greatest point. NASCAR wants to save the series? More short tracks. Incredible racing and would be a soap opera week in and week out…exactly what NASCAR wants today. Furthermore, every once in a while I’ll see the K&N Series on TV and give it a gander only to see great racing on a short track. NASCAR wants wrecks and I get it because those wrecks drive TV ratings, but the water cooler talk over the last couple of years hasn’t been a flip in the infield…it’s been Kenseth giving the chrome horn to Logano at Martinsville and tomorrow it will be Chase vs. Denny at Martinsville.

  8. Two thoughts: I am shocked Roger Penske or someone at Penske didn’t call Logano in to pit. So much for teammates??
    Also, isn’t it DENNY Hamlin and the veteran drivers always preaching on TV that the young drivers need to show respect and follow the “unwritten rules” of Nascar drivers?

  9. If Hamlin wants to learn the bump and run… He should watch some Teddy Christopher video.!
    Point Five spot on Jeff. But with the current track ownership structure things won’t change.

  10. Jeff, you are completely wrong on the difference between Keslowski getting moved up the track and Hamlin’s dump of Elliot. The “bump and run” is classic short track. Most would agree, THAT is one of the things that makes short track racing soooo desirable.

    Punting a driver into the corner, where he is out of control is reckless, dangerous, and totally not how you are supposed to conduct racing no matter what the format is. I don’t care who it is that ends up in the fence.

    So, no- I don’t agree with you at all on that one. Even Hamlin has issued a statement essentially saying it isn’t how we want racing to be. Which is at least some consolation coming out of that debacle in Turn 3.

    But I heartily agree with your point #5. The sooner we get more short track racing the better.

    1. What Ted said.

      Hamlin had the talent, the time, and the speed advantage to do it right. He took the bush (not Busch) league route and punted the 24. What’d he say after the race? Something like “No way Elliott could make that corner because I had his rear wheels off the ground”. That’s not a statement from a guy failing at the bump and run. That’s a statement from a guy who did exactly what he planned to do.

  11. Bottom line is, the only reason people are crying about this is because a popular driver came out on the short-end. If Hamlin had turned Logano, Keselowski or Kyle Busch he would’ve been cheered wildly. Regardless, fans should have the big picture in mind enough to consider what a good show this was. Would you prefer a gentlemanly parade on an intermediate in front of half-filled stands? This is short-track racing…this is Martinsville, and most of all this is a product of the current playoff format. Is it always fair….nope. Last year the slowest car of the championship 4 won the title at Homestead because the leaders wrecked each other racing desperately for the win. Earlier this season Austin Cindric dumped Kaz Grala in Canada to punch his ticket to the playoffs. NASCAR has created a scenario where everything is on the line in these events, and that not only encourages…but requires desperation and “Hail Mary” type moves. Denny Hamlin has won virtually everything in this sport except a championship, it is the prize he most covets, how can you fault him for stepping over the edge when a trip to Homestead (a track at which he is arguably NASCAR’s best) is on the line. I also think Jeff’s earlier point is a good one…let’s stop acting like the bump and run is an exact science. Elliott rooted Keselowski out of the way, Kyle Busch bumped Hamlin out of the way, heck a few laps earlier Kyle Busch tore Logano’s bumper clear off and ruined his day. Any of these moves could result in a spin if you misjudge it or the driver you are bumping checks up early….so let’s give the team 24 lynch mob act a rest. This is the playoffs now for better or worse, and at least from where I’m sitting that show was EXACTLY what the sport needed.

    1. No, the LEADERS DID NOT WRECK EACH OTHER. ONE DRIVER. CARL EDWARDS, dove down on LOGANO. FACT. Methinks, and it is of my opinion CARL regrets that decision to this day, hence his retirement. He knew Joey had it, and was told or decided it was not to be. My guess. Millions of dollars at one time, on the line, what is the desired storyline and who will pay the most, imo. And guess what..the heavy hyped 7 TIME, with a crappy season, got 7 TIME for just 11 or 10 laps. NOW THAT IS A CHAMP I TELL YAH. His final real place in the correct system of points was P8 or P7 I believe. The whole thing is a joke. And no I do not watch, but I damn sure keep up on the lying BS, that lemmings love so much!

    2. CHASE IS NOT POPULAR…..YET. They are living thru CHASE his father, please be clear on that because nobody gives a rats butt about him. What newbies of young people is he getting? NOBODY, because he has not done a damn thing of major WOW. NASCAR and RICK are trying like hell to get him the attention from the old folks crowd, just like DALE JR. they think they were looking at DALE SR. They changed his number to his fathers number for goodness sakes, if that is not pandering, I don’t know what is.

  12. Agree with the people that disagree with your assessment of what Chase did to Brad and what Denny did to Chase being nearly identical.

    One thing I want to add, as a Jeff Gordon fan, Chase making an aggressive move after Brad left himself vulnerable and taking Brad out of contention for the win, and possibly a shot at competing for the title at Homestead, that was poetic justice.

    1. He dropped to 6th? Where did Chase end up there bud? How many points out of 4th is Brad? You’re delusional. Don’t forget about Jeff Gordon’s bonehead move on Clint Boyer at phenix a few years ago there bud.

  13. Really?????? Everybody going to pyscho analyze Martinsville, lol. Good luck, get a straight jacket, you deserve it.

  14. Martinsville just points out what is wrong with the whole ridiculous idea of a ‘playoff’ in racing with an entire field of cars on the track. So easy to eliminate competition with an ‘inadvertent’ accident. Whether it was intentional or not, the result is the same…a way to virtually eliminate competition.

  15. Joey’s decision to stay out with a tire rub is just bizarre. It was obvious to everyone that he was going to bring out a caution. He isn’t in the playoffs. His chance of winning is over. His teammate is in the lead. His decision makes ZERO sense. Then he goes on Twitter after the race and asks what the fans think. It’s almost like he knew he wanted to create drama and screw over his teammate. Is something going on behind the scenes at Penske?

  16. Yes Denny screwed up, he went over the line and flat out wrecked the 24. Most other contact that I saw at the front was acceptable although I admit, it is a very fine line and open to debate.

    Yes, we need more Martinsville type short tracks. There is no such thing as a boring race at Martinsville. How can there be with 40 cars on a flat, half-mile track trying to go as fast as they can?

    The lucky dogs and wave arounds suck. There were 13 cars on the lead lap at one point which would have made a huge difference to someone like Elliott that got wrecked late in the race (13th place points instead of 27th). Instead drivers who did not even deserve a finish above someone that ran in the top 5 most of the day and stayed on the lead lap end up benefitting via NASCAR’s entitlement programs.

    Whatever. I enjoyed watching that race and, since I refuse to pick a driver after mine retired (for the reasons stated above as well as the crapshoot nature of the current rules), it didn’t ruin my Sunday night or Monday.

    Here we are now, entertain us

  17. what kyle petty said. one thing to root someone out the way (24/2). 11`lifted 24 rear off the ground before the concrete(the straight). at that point 11 is driving the 24 too and putting him where he wants. racing=drama whether you like it or not. Hey nascar still think these cookie cutters are putting butts in the seats and remotes on nascar after 20 years? hindsight says mismanagement.

  18. There is always a difference between drivers roughing each other up and wrecking each other. Leaning on somebody in the corner or moving them up a lane, completely fair game. But what Denny did was never going to result in anything other than Chase in the wall. Plus Denny’s changing, disingenuous comments after the race for an already not very likable figure don’t help. Denny has not been a mentally tough racer (makes sooo many unforced errors) and will likely never win the championship because of it. He just had his Kyle Busch/Dale Jr. moment from Richmond. Not a smart racer.

  19. It looks like Chase has been anointed the future superstar of NASCAR. One would think after watching a sizable chunk of the fan base and sponsorship drift away over the last 15 years they would know better.

    Chase hasn’t won a race yet, he’s a nice kid, but the odds of him being able pull the load he’s about to get hitched with is slim to none.

    1. How did JR handle that load without performing so well? Oh yeah he knew what fans looked for in a driver and delivered. Not all fans follow a driver because of performance.

  20. For me the key was that DH lies to CE about being pushed into him. No credibility.
    Big difference moving someone out from the side but they can continue and wrecking them from the back which removes them from race.
    Don’t blame Nascar for bad driving. When people run out of talent they do whatever and then lie about it. The Chase added to competition it didn’t create poor sportsmanship. That is an individual trait.

  21. You should post Dale Jr’s golden diapers tweet from last night in your #5.

    Also, if you were right Jeff, the MWR fiasco at Richmond a few years back would be more common (who care’s if it’s dirty? That’s on them – I don’t buy it), and nobody wants that

  22. You are 100% correct when you say the views of many come down to which driver gets wrecked. If it was Kyle Busch getting wrecked, Denny would have been cheered and cheered and cheered.

    Great article Jeff!

  23. Hamlin’s move was so obviously blatant…when he had Elliott’s rear end hiked up in the air on the straight he could have lifted. But no, let’s just blast him through the corner. Both Hamlin and Elliott need to be fined. (I know Chase is the new darling, but you can not intentionally run your car into another, I don’t care how pissed you are).

    While watching the racing between Harvick and Blaney, I was having serious flashbacks to the early days of Earnhardt Sr and Jeff Gordon. I loved watching that and Harvick was incredibly patient with Blaney…I have a new appreciation for Harvick after this, and I hope Blaney woke up this morning realizing he got about 5 years of exceptional short track wisdom in a Sunday afternoon.

  24. There’s bump and run and then there’s dump and run. Hamlin literally had the back of Chase’s car lifted off of the ground well before they entered the corner. He even admitted after the race (in so many words) that he wrecked him. Chase gave Kes the old bump and run. There is a HUGE difference. I don’t even not like Hamlin. So I’m not making this comment based on emotion, I’m basing it on the fact that he just wrecked him.

  25. I might be biased, but I love the bump and run. Sometimes it goes awry. Earnhardt and Labonte at Bristol, Kyle Busch and Dale Jr at Richmond…sometimes the guy just gets wrecked. But it makes for some entertaining stuff.

    Ironically, everyone that moved someone seemed to get either moved or wrecked as well. Karma, short tracks, short tempers.

    God I love this stuff, forget the mile and a halfs.

  26. I like Denny because he came out of the short tracks without the money or connections that drivers like Elliott or Danibitch had for example. Nascar is pretty much a millionaires club, look at the Coke buddy buddy commercials. I watch for the sporting aspects but the manipulations by NASCAR for thejr ridiculous point system has gotten to be too much. Hopefully the Waltrips won’t be back on Fox next year also.

    1. Stop. if he did not have connections or money, he would not be basking in his 33 thousands square foot home on two lots on Lake Norman. A full sized indoor basketball court (which a I am sure on that little road the neighbors must love all the traffic), a heliport, a bowling alley, a musem, etc. Hey, sounds extremely excessive and ego driven by my standards, but it is his money..go for it. Most families have help, the cost is insane, even the ones that are wrongly accused of being billionaires.. Denny has negotiated well with FEDEX, lots of goodies. What happens when FedEx leaves? Fidcuary responsibly kicks in and can keep him and his baby mama in the lap of luxury for decades to come!

  27. “How did JR handle that load without performing so well? Oh yeah he knew what fans looked for in a driver and delivered. Not all fans follow a driver because of performance.”

    I think Harvick pretty much summed this up on his radio show. The fact is, the sport we love is in a state of crisis, and we are probably on the cusp of loosing the truck series and a slew of drivers who will exit because the money isn’t being generated to continue. I just got done digging though a box of wadded up t shirts that replaced the Fanatics Tent. The midway is down to 6 haulers. It’s red altert time.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. The grandstands would be a lot fuller if Dale Jr had been winning and mixing it up for wins the last 10 years. Chase hasn’t won a race, and the likleyhood that he will be a guy who wins 60 or 70 races in his career are low.

    Whoever that person (or persons) is, needs to be the star of the sport. Somebody who is a great guy and witty on twitter will not fill grandstands.

    If we create another nepotistic superstar who can’t win we are done.

  28. I don’t understand, it was under 10 laps to go, all bets are off. I believe they call it racing for a reason. I’m not a fan of follow the leader, I want to see a race until the checker flag.

  29. Here’s my issue…

    In the contact between Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski, it came as Elliott was attempting to make a pass. He was on the inside, washed up, and it sent Keselowski out of the groove. We’ve seen that hundreds of times at Martinsville (at least), and we’ll see it hundreds of more. In Denny Hamlin’s case… in my mind, he never even attempted to pass Elliott. He slammed into Elliott’s rear bumper down the backstretch and pushed him all the way into Turn 3… until Elliott spun out and hit the wall. Contact in the context of attempting a pass is acceptable, even expected at a place like Martinsville. Hamlin never even attempted an actual pass.

  30. To me, the bigger issue is what penalty Chase will get for his aggressive relaliation AFTER the race??? I understand being angry but NASCAR has said that will not be tolerated. Oh yeah, I forgot, he drives #24, for Hendrick and has an excellent driver for his father. Guess I answered my own question.

  31. 1 – The problem with the argument that the playoff format rewards dirty racing is this – it doesn’t reward winning. People want to pretend otherwise but the facts are winless drivers have consistently over the years of the Chase been reracked into title contention, and number of wins is treated as irrelevant to the championship. What Hamlin did was no different than similar incidents over the years regardless of points format.

    2 – Racing people clean is what racers ultimately want, which makes the controversy over Hamlin all the bigger.

    3 – NASCAR needs to take away the outside option and require the leader start on the inside row of every restart. This “leader’s option” is crap.

    4 – Enthusing for short-track nastiness and making it an indictment of racing on 1.5 milers as usual misses reality – the short tracks on radial tires with top-heavy bodies aren’t that good. What made this Martinsville memorable is having yet another GWC restart. Good short track racing comes from racecars with bias-ply tires and downforce “superspeedway” bodies a la Late Models/Pro Stocks. Having more short tracks didn’t make the sport more popular in the 1960s, as RJR recognized when it cut the schedule and eliminated 17 short track races after 1971. It wasn’t making the sport popular in the 1970s or the 1980s or the 1990s. We need to accept that short tracks are not what the major leagues need.

  32. Team Penske for sure has had their problems this year, since NASCAR clipped their wings earlier when they were consistency doing well. This weekend, from watching the PENSKE organization over many years, Brads NEWBIE WIFE did a huge NO NO. She on social media not once but 3 times “called out” (laugh) Joey Logano. Who is she again? A nobody in the racing profession, just a seat warmer on the pit box, because her baby daddy, now legit daddy had some trouble, and not because of Logano. Point being this person claims to be best buddies with the Loganos, and BRAD AND JOEY do work for Penske (Paige it seems does not work) and yet her friends she threw under the horrid nasty TWITTER BUS, wanting and getting her desired results of hate for her “friends”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Wow just Wow, shocked if Roger puts up with that. Well that Gold DIGGER/BABY MAMA/NOW WIFE has cast doubt on the unity of a once strong race team. Shame on her. Go Joey, I cannot stand to look at Brad right now. Go Joey, Go Brittany, pregnant and all, with a huge foundation to run, what does PAIGE do, her nails? Just asking. Shameful on her part. PAIGE, bad, bad, bad.

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