(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2020 Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville

Editors Note: What in blazes am I doing here? Yeah, Matt, what’s up? You write on Tuesdays, having given this column up years ago.

Yep. You recall correctly. Bryan Keith, who took over this column when Mike Neff stopped doing it, has been doing a fine job with the race recaps under whatever title he’s selected for them. On Monday mornings, once I gnaw through my restraints to get out of bed, the first thing I do is look for Bryan’s column.

If you are fortunate to have a job to go to during these troubled times, be it in a factory, an office, working on the highway, in a shop or store, at an eat it and beat it or whatever you might do to make a living, you don’t need me to tell you troubled times have come to your hometown. Whether you call Asbury Park, N.J., Rabbit Hutch, Ky., or Los Angeles, Ca. home there’s no denying things are in a bit of an uproar.

A lot of people are upset and angry about how things are going right now. Others loudly declare they want everything to be like it used to just a few short months ago. In places where people gather, be it around the water cooler (probably not keeping proper social distance), in the break room, or out in the parking lot sitting on the tailgates of their trucks it doesn’t take much to spark an argument. People have deeply held convictions on both sides of issues and nobody seems interested in listening to one another in an attempt to reach consensus. It’s easier to yell a little louder or punch that other fellow right in the yap.

Bryan is a young man with some firmly held beliefs. No one was yelling and no one threw a punch but right now he is evaluating what his future holds for him. It is my strong preference that he returns to writing this column in the near future as I enjoy reading his recaps.

The Key Moment: My notes indicate Martin Truex Jr. took the lead on lap 370. While he mixed it up there for a while, not too long after he must have blown the drivers pursuing him a jaunty kiss and drove on to the win.

In a Nutshell: There’s nothing so wrong with the New NASCAR that an old racetrack can’t fix it.

Dramatic Moment: Joey Logano dominated the first stage and Jimmie Johnson took control in the second. But the third stage featured some hardcore racing between some usual suspects: Team Penske’s Fords, Chase Elliott and the Little Leaguers in Hendrick Camp, Alex Bowman and William Byron.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Obviously, there’s been a lot of discussion pro and con on the Black Lives Matter paint scheme that ran on Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 car this week. As I understand it, the team didn’t have a regular sponsor for the car anyway after the dustup with the Blue Emu folks (ironically enough, Wednesday night’s race sponsor) earlier this year. Seriously, everyone understands they have to kill emus to make this stuff, right?

BOWLES: NASCAR’S #BLACKLIVESMATTER MOVEMENT A SEA CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP

As many times as I have heard, “Black lives matter,” I personally have never taken that as a slight that my life doesn’t matter. But perhaps adding a single word to the slogan would heal some of the division as in “Black Lives Matter Too.” C’mon people, it’s not all that hard. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. We all want to be safe. We all want to be free. And we all want be treated fairly.

Wallace went on to say, if he had a choice, the Confederate Flag would be banned at all NASCAR tracks on rare weekends going forward. That flag, often erroneously referred to as the Confederate Battle Flag, has been a hot button topic in racing for years. Like clockwork, the flag’s defenders rallied back with “heritage, not hate.” Problem is, when your heritage includes enslavement of my ancestors, we’re not going to see eye-to-eye on the issue. And everyone has to agree on at least this one point (or here’s your hall pass …). The Klu Klux Klan have adopted that flag as one of their chief symbols, right up there with the stupid pointy hats and the noose.

While we’re on the topic of powerful symbols, is it OK now to wear a face mask intended to look like the United States flag? Back in the days, Raquel Welch was the hottest female star on the scene. She chose to model a skimpy bikini modeled after the flag and took a ton of crap for doing so. Different times, I suppose. But what happens when you sneeze, cough or vomit into your American flag-themed mask?

Why did old school fans join together to keep Martinsville from installing lights for so many years? Because we’re frickin’ old and cranky and don’t like change. That actually explains a lot of what’s going on right now….

Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Kyle Busch was a non-factor through most of Wednesday night’s race. After suffering overheated brake calipers that seized the compromised brakes, he drove right into a slower car ahead. Corey LaJoie’s decision not to pit under caution caught Busch a lap down (no wave-around) in stage one. He remained off the lead lap the rest of the evening.

Denny Hamlin suffered brake overheating issues similar to Busch’s and also was never a factor Wednesday night. His 24th-place finish was the worst for him on a short track since 2017.

It looked like Jimmie Johnson was about to end his 105-race winless streak. He looked like the Johnson of old leading the race with ease at a track where he’s won nine times. But in the end, the seven-time champion could barely hang on to a top-10 finish in the No. 48 car. The handling simply went away at the end.

Three of the four SHR cars suffered battery issues during the race. Aric Almirola had the worst of it but Kevin Harvick (15th) also had his worst run of 2020.

The JGR teams suffered a long evening as well. Obviously, Truex won so it wasn’t a complete disaster. But behind the No. 19 car, the next highest-finishing Toyotas were Kyle Busch (19th), Erik Jones (20th) and Denny Hamlin (24th).

Austin Dillon beat in the rocker panels of his Chevy in the Martinsville mayhem with some damage occurring while he appeared to be horsing around with his younger brother like a pair of Enduro-Stock rookies. When the heat and carbon monoxide finally got to Dillon and he needed to get out of the car, there were no relief drivers available to spell him. The No. 3 car is listed as having finished 37th 101 laps short of completing the race. In a surprise move, the founder of Blue Emu didn’t fire him.

Seven Come ‘Ere 11 Award for Fine Fortune

If you looked at the weather forecast in the couple days leading up to the race, you’d already written off any chances for it running in its planned time slot. But after some horrid weather to kick off the seasons (pre- and post-hiatus), Mother Nature actually showed some compassion and Martinsville ran uninterrupted. It finished almost precisely at the end of its allotted TV time slot, sparing us all any more idiocy about the Vortex Theory.

Eventual race winner Truex had to overcome a “commitment box” penalty entering pit road to go on and win the race in dominant fashion.

Ryan Blaney went a lap down early in the race but fought his way back onto the lead lap. (OK, you often don’t have to fight too hard given the insane and possibly socialistic wave-around rules.) Late in the race, Keselowski realized he wasn’t going to catch Truex. He waved Blaney by and told him, “see what you can do with this cat.” Joey Logano must have fainted at the wheel watching that gesture.

Worth Noting: The top-10 finishers at Martinsville drove a Toyota, four Fords and five Chevys.

Kevin Harvick still leads the points. He’s trailed by Logano, Elliott, Keselowski and Truex, in that order. In positions six through 10 you’ll find Blaney, Bowman, Hamlin, and the brothers Busch with Kyle Busch leading Kurt Busch by one spot.

Of that group of 10, the Busch brothers and Blaney have yet to score a race win to punch their golden ticket into the playoffs or whatever they’re being called this year. There are seven winners in the season’s first 11 races.

Race Rating (on a scale of 1-6 beers, with one being a snoozer and six being an instant classic): We’ll grade this one on a curve and bring in the Wayback Machine. I give this race five icy cold bottles of Rolling Rock Ponies, the only beer designed to be fully consumed waiting at a traffic light on Thunder Road.

Next up: After staging the first set of races following the hiatus, only at tracks within easy driving distances of Charlotte where our sport is headquartered (sort of like camping in your parent’s backyard) the sport takes its first field trip. They’ll head down to Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida for a race on Sunday. (Sort of like camping in your grandparent’s backyard.)

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Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    down to homestead and more humidity! wonder if since they’re permitting spectators (military members) that crews might be able to have a driver on standby. but then you also might have drivers available if they wreck out early.

    i was taught that nothing you wear should be the flag, but i’m old.

    caught the beginning of the race, more or less to see if anyone would take a knee during the anthem. fell asleep and woke up and the reair was showing, as it was still daylight in martinsville.

  2. Avatar

    WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO DAVID KEITH ? HE IS BY FAR THE BEST FULL TIME WRITER ON THE FRONTSTRETCH STAFF !!

    I ALWAYS ENJOY MATT WHEN HE MAKES AN APPEARANCE !!

  3. Avatar

    Matt I see where you took the Rebel Flag off of your helmet. Your choice, NA$CAR’s or The Front Stretch?

    • Avatar

      I was wondering about that myself. Were you censored or did you “finally see the light”?

      • Matt

        Jerry his very own self once wrote “Once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right. To me, the thought any Grateful Dead inspired logo could be misconstrued as racist is ludicrous. We were a pretty diverse and free spirited bunch of merry pranksters back when we were on the road chasing the band from town to town. Hell, we were doping some smoke even before all those governors told us it was OK to do so and took the fun out of it. I assured i was not edited. In any matter I am willing to meet others halfway to promote peaceful understanding. The one thing I love more than stock car racing is the human race in all the shades and shapes it comes in.

  4. Avatar

    WTF is going on? I went back and reread and if that little commentary got everyone’s head spinning give me a break.

    Well said Matt in the “Editor’s Note” as well as the “Water Cooler” section, couldn’t agree with you more.

    Well one nice thing having you write this column is that it provided me with my laugh of the day with “The No. 3 car is listed as having finished 37th 101 laps short of completing the race. In a surprise move, the founder of Blue Emu didn’t fire him.” Touché!

  5. Avatar

    Re “…is it OK now to wear a face mask intended to look like the United States flag?”

    It could be worse if you remember the Black Crowes’ album cover for “Amorica”….

    https://www.google.com/search?q=black+crowes+amorica+album+art&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjRuOzzvvzpAhV8TDABHez4Cw4Q_AUoAXoECBIQAw&biw=1213&bih=736

    (and yes I know where that image originally came from)

  6. Avatar

    I stay away most news and racing websites because I am very tried of everyone telling me how to behave and what to think. A friend of mine told me about Frontstretch years ago. When I get the itch to read about racing, I come here. It was so nice to stop by and see that Matt was filling in for Bryan. It was like old times.

    • Avatar

      So how does it make you feel coming here and having half of the articles telling you how to behave and what to think?