I love short tracks.
Like really, really love short tracks.
Sometimes, I can forget what I love about racing and then something like the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway happens. And it has nothing to do with the carnage that was the final 10 laps.
Well, maybe a little. But the little half-mile that is NASCAR’s oldest track, put on a hell of a 500-plus-lap show on Sunday. Only downside is that Kyle Busch won — I kid, I kid.
While the ending was exciting, and heartbreaking if you are Chase Elliott or one of his growing legion of fans, the whole race was good. You had cars able to run on the outside line, which you have rarely seen. There was a constant battle around the front of the field, with the first- and second-place cars running nose-to-tail and swapping the lead a few times.
I would dare say Denny Hamlin’s actions at the end kind of detracted from the race. He flat out dumped Elliott for the lead, which honestly wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be.
He was racing for a win and don’t we romanticize the notion of “wrecking your mama for the win?”
My issue is around his last-lap theatrics and destroying the whole field by driving Ryan Blaney into the pit wall coming to the checkered. If you think his move on Elliott was uncalled for, it wasn’t as near of a D move as the one he pulled on Blaney.
For his part, Hamlin apologized and said in his time racing — 29 years — he had never wrecked the leader of a race. He cited that number as being 10,000 races, which, as Landon Cassill pointed out, equates to 344 races a year.
Um, that’s a no there Denny.
Anyway, despite my digression and Hamlin’s antics, NASCAR needs more of this and less of the 1.5-mile track sameness. Martinsville has no worries of aero or high or low downforce; just keep the fenders off the tires and have at it and keep the gas and brake pedals working. It’s a very simple formula. This is what stock cars were made to do. Hell, it’s why they have fenders.
In a buck to a trend, the TV ratings for the Martinsville race was up six percent over last year; both races were on NBCSN.
All that said, there was something a bit disturbing after the race: a “fan” on pit road got a bit rowdy with Hamlin, who was surrounded by the big race-team dudes.
A big part of the appeal of racing and one of the good things that NASCAR has going for it is access for fans. You can be up-close-and-personal before, during (if you know the right people) and after the race. Someone got this gentleman a pass that allowed him to be close to the action and he used that access to aggressively express his displeasure with Hamlin and had to be restrained.
I like passionate fans. I really do. Love your guy. Have a strong dislike of the other guy. It’s one of the things that makes sport great. But if you are going to have that kind of access, you have to keep that mess in check. It’s why we can’t have nice things.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.