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WAID’S WORLD: Wild Martinsville Finish Just What NASCAR Needed

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The First Data 500 Monster Series NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville was just the kind of event that benefits the sanctioning body and the style of competition that is always touted at the short tracks.

The race was a slam-bang affair that ended with Denny Hamlin shoving leader Chase Elliott into the wall and then, at the overtime checkered flag, Kyle Busch nipping Martin Truex Jr. while the rest of the field crumpled together into a junkyard.

And did the fans take notice.

They tweeted.

They posted.

They ranted.

They argued.

TV sports highlighted the action, repeatedly.

Even a very prominent network morning show’s news ticker read: “Kyle Busch earns championship place with win in wild Martinsville finish.” Can’t remember the last time NASCAR was this featured.

To me, if there is anything that can help shake NASCAR out of its doldrums, it’s a race like Martinsville.

Let me explain.

The greatest lure of short-track racing is the very real possibility there will be plenty of jabbing, gouging and metal crunching. It’s the nature of the beast. Many times it what has to happen if one driver is to get around another.

And short tracks play it up, big-time. There isn’t a single television ad that promotes their races without cars making contact followed by smoking spinouts.

Such racing is always hyped to sell tickets.

It’s been the stuff of NASCAR lore. There are too many tales to be told here, but a few include the crash and confrontation at Martinsville between Curtis Turner and Bobby Isaac.

Turner asked Isaac, “Why did you deliberately hit me?”

To which Isaac replied, “Why would I do that? I don’t even know you.”

Or, again at Martinsville, there was Ricky Rudd and Joe Ruttman engaging in a demolition derby on the last lap of a race. Then there was Rudd’s entanglement with Kyle Petty. Afterward Rudd said on the public address system, “There’s an idiot on the race track and his name is Kyle Petty.”

There are just as many examples, or more, of such incidents at the half-mile, high-banked Bristol track. Dale Earnhardt’s last-lap punt of Terry Labonte is perhaps the most prominent.

Afterward, Labonte said; “Hell, I’m not mad. I won the race.”

There’s more, so much more.

And if we care to admit it, it’s the reason why short tracks have such popularity and are preferred by fans fed up with boring competition on the mile-and-a-half speedways.

It doesn’t always happen. But when it does it seems to have a character all its own and thus sparks varied reaction from the fans.

At Martinsville, Hamlin has been reviled for what appeared to be his deliberate actions against Elliott.

People have said they will no longer support him. They have said other things, that, uh, were much more negative.

Now, I’m not out to change anyone’s mind because I think I’m smart enough to know it can’t be done.

But I don’t think Hamlin intended to send Elliott for a loop. I think he attempted the accepted short-track strategy of pushing Elliott out of the way and the maneuver’s results were far more damaging than he intended.

However, the worst happened to Elliott and thus Hamlin has to bear the brunt of fan disapproval. I commend him for his tweet in which he accepted responsibility for his actions – the result of which he said he never intended.

I also believe Hamlin might, just might, have not been so vilified if Elliott hadn’t been involved. Perhaps there might not have been such uproar if it involved, say, Kyle Busch.

Elliott has gained a significant amount of popularity during his short tenure. That he is the son of Bill Elliott has something to do with that, of course, but he has presented himself as a talented driver with a great amount of promise and very little attitude or arrogance.

Fans want to see him reach his potential. They want to see him win and don’t like it when he’s robbed of victory.

At Martinsville, Elliott conducted himself well. He had his “meeting” with Hamlin after the race and afterward displayed class with his comment, “My Momma always said if you don’t have anything nice not to say anything at all. So, it’s not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas.”

Incidentally, I know his mother Cindy very well from our days at NASCAR Scene. I guarantee you she does not put up with any nonsense.

I am not suggesting that any driver who deliberately wrecks another has any place in racing, short track or not. My thinking is that Hamlin’s strategy backfired on him.

We don’t need any disorganized mayhem like we saw between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano a short while back.

But when short-track racing results in what it is so heavily advertised, that’s a different story altogether.

It spurs reaction. It has fans talking, taking sides and offering vastly different views. It engulfs the media.

In this case, Martinsville was nearly as prominent among the media outlets as the wild quarterback duel that was the Seattle-Houston NFL game or that lengthy home run derby that characterized the fifth World Series game.

And really, how often does that happen?

I think it was just what NASCAR needed – and, I might add, the fans too.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

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Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.