It is a well-known fact that NASCAR has been in the decline since it peaked in the mid-2000s.
Ratings are down and the seats at the track have not been in as high of demand as they were a decade ago. People have chalked that up to various things, such as the introduction of playoffs, stage racing and the cars getting away from truly being stock cars.
After seeing the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, it is evident that none of those theories are why NASCAR’s numbers has been going downhill. The reason is that the actual product — the racing on the track — has been lagging and boring due to the current aero package that prevents beating and banging and the huge tracks that allow for the cars to get spread out
Martinsville is such a tiny track that there is no such thing as gapping the field.
Whenever Chase Elliott or Kyle Busch built up decent leads on Sunday, they hit heavy lapped traffic and it allowed for Brad Keselowski to catch back up. There were only about five cars that were good enough to win, but it was still a great race because there was always action somewhere on the track.
Drivers were able to pound on their competitors cars because aerodynamics hardly matter at Martinsville. It is one of the few tracks now where the cars don’t get anywhere near 200 mph; they don’t even hit half of that speed at The Paperclip.
The awesome racing that Martinsville provides, combined with stage racing and the building drama of the playoffs made for the best race of 2017. It may have even been one of the best races I have ever seen.
This race wasn’t the wreck-fest that people will claim it to be. Most of the field piled up at the finish line, but that was one of only a few incidents. The rest of the race was filled with rubbing, and as Harry Hogge in Days of Thunder said, “Rubbing is racing.”
Denny Hamlin has already received much criticism for spinning out Chase Elliott at the end of the race, but that was not dirty driving. It was racing at the purest of levels, racing at the grassroots level.
I hear all the time that the racing at the local short tracks is better than the racing in NASCAR most of the time now. That statement is true for the most part, and quite a few of the local short track races I have seen have involved one driver plowing into another driver for a win.
Back in September, Martinsville hosted the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, the biggest late model race in the country. That race was filled with wrecks and the fans loved it. There were so many wrecks in the Last Chance Race alone that it had to be shortened from 25 laps to eight laps.
“I watched a late model race here a month ago that was the exact same thing,” Hamlin said on Sunday. “It’s short track racing.”
Hamlin apologized in a Tweet after the race, but he had nothing to apologize for.
It makes for great entertainment. Let’s be honest with ourselves and quit pretending to be better than that. Everyone that watched the end of the Martinsville race was filled with excitement. It was certainly better than the snoozers we have seen at the 1.5-milers this year.
Elliott and his fans have every right to be mad, but that’s racing, you have a winner and you have losers. All of Hamlin’s criticism outside of that group needs to instead thank him for the show.
Besides, didn’t Dale Earnhardt to the same thing to Terry Labonte on two different occasions at Bristol Motor Speedway?
We celebrate those two moments as two of the best ever at Bristol. Anyone that enjoyed those finishes and despises the way that this race at Martinsville ended is a hypocrite.
The bottom line is that we need for drivers to be this aggressive when going for the win. We need more race tracks like Martinsville where the cars aren’t going over 100 mph, so that aggressive racing is not as dangerous.
Keselowski dominated the race at Martinsville before being knocked out of the way by Elliott. He was bummed about the result, but he still maintained at the end that NASCAR needs more short tracks.
Make it so!