Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway featured a lot of action, including Denny Hamlin spinning Chase Elliott for the lead, Kyle Busch moving Hamlin out of the way for the win and Elliott waiting for Hamlin after the race and running into the No. 11. Were these moves all simply part of short track racing? And should NASCAR have stepped in with penalties?
Amy Henderson: Denny Hamlin crossed a line, and so did Chase Elliott. Hamlin’s move was anything but clean; you don’t jack the rear end of a car up off the ground three-quarters of the way down the backstretch with the intent of racing that driver. You do it with the sole intent of putting them in the wall. Hamlin had the opportunity to race Elliott correctly (and a real bump-and-run, like Kyle Busch used on Hamlin, would have been absolutely OK) and chose to just wreck him instead. But Elliott’s move after the race was also wrong. I’m not talking about the confrontation; that was fine and necessary. But hitting a car after the race is never acceptable. Penalties? No. But Hamlin told Elliott it was acceptable to wreck a competitor out of the playoffs. He shouldn’t be surprised if the same happens to him. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but Hamlin shouldn’t be penalized, and neither should Elliott if he turns the tables at Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway or Homestead-Miami Speedway.
John Haverlin: All of these moves are just the nature of the beast when it comes to short track racing. However, Elliott’s spin could have been avoided. Hamlin is one of the best at Martinsville, but you would never know it by the way he entered the corner with the No. 24 right in front of him. For someone who’s been in Cup full-time since 2006, his judgment entering the corner was that of an ARCA Racing Series driver. Hamlin said the wreck wasn’t intentional so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but Elliott had every right to retaliate after the race.
Christian Koelle: It’s hard, close short-track racing at Martinsville that was fueled by night racing for the first time. Add a Championship 4 spot at Homestead, and suddenly you’ve got drivers doing whatever’s possible to secure one of those spots. This was similarly on display at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park earlier this year in the Camping World Truck Series when Austin Cindric moved Kaz Grala out of the way for a spot to just get into the playoffs. It’s not going to be the last time we see this either, with two races remaining in the round. With three laps remaining, they should have raced for it instead of Hamlin moving him out of the way, or maybe Hamlin should’ve waited until the end to make that move.
Michael Massie: Martinsville was the best race of the season because it showed just how hungry these drivers are and how aggressive they need to be to win. Hamlin was slower than Elliott the entire race. The only reason Hamlin caught him is because Elliott lost momentum after using up Brad Keselowski. You need to do everything you can when a race win is on the line. If Hamlin didn’t get into the back of Elliott there, then Elliott would have run off and won it easily. These guys are out there to win races and put on a show, not make friends. In football, a player is not going to hit someone any less just because they’re scared they’ll will knock a player out of the game. They go all out to try to win, and that is exactly how NASCAR drivers should be. I am happy there was no penalty. It is Elliott’s prerogative to pay Hamlin back. Besides, Elliott never received a penalty when he wrecked Ty Dillon to win a Truck race.
With stage wins virtually meaningless in the Round of 8, should NASCAR find some way for them to carry over into the championship race, or should it still be winner-take-all at Homestead?
Haverlin: If stage wins matter in the first 32 races of the season, they should matter in the last four as well. Otherwise, there’s no reason to have stages at Homestead. Even if the championship winner isn’t the highest finisher among the final four, that’d be OK to me. As long as they’ve accumulated the most points, they deserve to be the champion.
Vito Pugliese: It absolutely should be carried over. While stage racing has been credited with making the racing much more exciting this year (despite one guy dominating virtually all of the stages), an unintended consequence is coming to light: it makes the final race at Homestead look absolutely silly and ridiculous. For one driver (Martin Truex Jr.) to have racked up so many stage wins and dominate the regular season (and first two rounds of the playoffs) and not win the championship this year at Homestead, what’s the purpose again of racing that hard all season long? I would be an advocate of removing the final winner-take-all round and just go back to a 10-race playoff (since we can’t have a cumulative regular season points championship anymore, ever) and add in the bonus points for winning stages. It would make every race count equally and have the effect of a season-long effort actually factoring into the final tally.
Koelle: Truex has earned so many points throughout the season and the last seven races that all he’d have to do is start at Homestead, and NASCAR has put a lot of work into making Homestead an important race. Leave it as a winner-take-all at Homestead.
Henderson: It should not be, nor should it have ever been, a winner-take-all situation. All that does is cheapen the title to a stupid degree. NASCAR should find a way to make sure the best driver all year has a significant edge in the title race.
Wesley Coburn: I like the straightforwardness of the winner-take-all finale, but it does seem a little strange for stage wins to basically not count at this point of the season. Maybe the Championship 4 could be automatically given the top starting positions or pit selections, with most stage wins ranking them.
Fans are talking after Sunday’s race at Martinsville, and most of the talk has been good. Can NASCAR find a way to carry that momentum through the end of the season?
Koelle: One of the biggest issues NASCAR has is that this weekend’s race at Texas is on NBCSN when it should clearly be on NBC. The best thing about it is that the final two races of the season will be on NBC, but this is one of those crucial races that need to be on NBC because of the storylines coming off Martinsville. The Texas race has been a notable race on the schedule since 2014. A fight between Keselowski and Jeff Gordon highlighted it in 2014, follwed by the late-race pass by Jimmie Johnson on Keselowski in 2015 and last season the rain shortened race that sent Carl Edwards to Homestead. Two out of three races have sent a driver to Homestead, and Sunday shouldn’t be any different.
Massie: I feel sorry for Texas, because there is no way to follow Martinsville, the best track on the circuit. Any boost that NASCAR receives from the legendary short track will be wiped out with a snoozer at Texas. The last two races will have to be good to pick up the pieces from this weekend’s race. It has been evident for several years that NASCAR needs more short tracks and less 1.5-mile tracks, yet no actions have been taken to match the short track demand. NASCAR’s love for intermediate tracks is clearly greater than its desire to entertain fans, for some strange reason.
Haverlin: If NASCAR is going to carry positive momentum through the rest of the season, it needs to have a good race at Texas. The 1.5-mile tracks have been the least entertaining this year, and they’ve been downright awful in the playoffs. I don’t mean to say that if Truex wins for a fourth time at a 1.5-miler in the playoffs it would be a bad thing, but the race better have drama and something that will make fans sit at the edge of their seats. As for Phoenix and Homestead, I’m confident both tracks can put on great shows. The last three races in the desert dating back to March 2016 have been fantastic, and Homestead always delivers for the championship.
Pugliese: Hope for another fight at Texas as they had in 2014 when Gordon and most of the No. 24 team took a swing at Keselowski? If Elliott happens to win at Texas or Phoenix, it will help keep the momentum going since he is apparently the heir apparent to Dale Earnhardt Jr. as far as fan popularity is concerned, judging by the vocal response from the crowd at Martinsville.
Martinsville was the last of a handful of shortened Cup Series race weekends in 2017 that featured qualifying before the race on Sunday. Is this something NASCAR should consider more of in 2018, or was it a failed experiment?
Coburn: It sounded like a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out as well in practice. Racedays feel too rushed. And the pit selection determined by the previous week’s qualifying aspect of it particularly needs an overhaul.
Pugliese: Certain tracks would benefit from it, particularly the road courses. Teams don’t really need all the practice time now, as so much is taken care of through simulation before they even leave the shop, and it is a significant cost-saving measure, from tires and personnel on site, as well as travel, food and lodging. I’d like to see them combine qualifying and the Saturday/Friday preliminary races of Trucks or the XFINITY Series to help get some extra eyes on those events and people in the stands. For as much as people complain and fret over empty seats at Cup events, the complete absence of attendees at Truck and XFINITY races is downright startling.
Massie: I hated it every time they did it. I am fine with having qualifying on Saturday to cut the costs of teams having to be there on Friday, but having it on Sunday does not work. It delayed Martinsville’s start time to 3 p.m., which greatly discourages people from going to the race because they don’t want to get home super late. I live a little over an hour from Martinsville, and I didn’t get home from that race until nearly 11 p.m. The only time qualifying should be on the same day is when the race is on Saturday night, that way fans have more activities to do on those race days. However, those are currently the races that have yet to have same-day qualifying. Seriously? Who schedules this stuff?
Henderson: From a professional standpoint, I both like and hate it. The shorter weekend is a significant cost savings for teams as well as media, but it makes it harder to schedule time with drivers and teams, and therefore harder to bring fans the features they want. I also heard a fan with a good point, who said that with the shortened weekend, they had less time to peruse the sponsor displays and shop of souvenirs. That’s less exposure and less income, and that’s not a great thing. Also, choosing pits based on the previous week needs to go. At the very least, base it on a practice session so that it’s based on performance at the current track and not one that helps or handicaps the drivers who are strong (or not) at the current track.
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