Today was a very crucial day for two reasons, and one of them was the venue itself.
Martinsville Speedway is the oldest track on the schedule, yet it has the wildest spirit. It’s that grandma in the nursing home that “still has” what everyone else has lost. That is exactly what helps her maintain her youthful glow.
The fans love Martinsville, and for good reason: it’s full of excitement. That’s something Talladega Superspeedway seemed to lack last weekend, The Big One apparently nonexistent. Both tracks hold the opportunity to significantly shake The Chase up. What Talladega failed to do, Martinsville valiantly attempted. Though it didn’t cause a huge splash, it presented a wrinkle.
That brings us to the second reason: resistance.
It takes a skilled driver to have self-control on the track. We see young guns become their own worst enemies in the aftermath of an intentional spin. A heated driver makes fine-worthy comments.
Tempers flare. Tasteless moves are made.
That’s why Martinsville is loved.
It would’ve been very easy for everyone to go out and wreck each other today. Some did. But the beauty of a short track is that line between “a touch” and “a hit” is blurred. Those blurred lines create a feather-edged painted that viewers enjoy.
Some drivers blatantly step onto one side or the other, but the drivers who gain the most from an emotion-driven race such as this one plant a foot on each side, hovering over the line itself.
That’s exactly what Jeff Gordon did today. With hesitant aggression, he moved people when they needed to be moved, and he held back when he needed to hold back. That gave him the win today. It thrust him back into the hunt for the title going into Texas Motor Speedway, where he does well.
Another person looking good going into next weekend is Matt Kenseth. Before this season, his record at The Paperclip was horrid. Today, he led the most laps and finished second. He got through a huge obstacle in these final races, and that means he’s sitting pretty on top of the points.
However, he isn’t alone. Jimmie Johnson is also at the top of the points. Tied with his competitor, Johnson finished fifth after falling victim to the dreaded outside line. It was a weird day for him -not just because he didn’t win, but because he was unnaturally aggressive throughout. He even got into the heated discussion with Greg Biffle after the race. Either Johnson is slipping (which is good for everyone else), or he’s starting to act more risky (which is bad for everyone else).
We say goodbye to one of The Chase’s curveballs and hello to three “easier” tracks. Kenseth is bound to do well in the next three tries, and Johnson’s practically guaranteed strong runs. Yet, does Gordon take charge and throw caution to the wind?
If anything else comes from today’s bout with this old grandma, it’s one glaringly obvious revelation:
NASCAR needs more short tracks on the schedule. What was seen today revived a flatlined subject, dropping a match into a still bucket of gasoline. That needs to happen more.
Excitement overload. From Martinsville, with love.
Point Standings after Martinsville
1. Matt Kenseth (–)
1. Jimmie Johnson (–)
3. Jeff Gordon (-27)
4. Kevin Harvick (-28)
5. Kyle Busch (-36)
6. Clint Bowyer (-55)
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-56)
8. Greg Biffle (-58)
9. Kurt Busch (-75)
10. Carl Edwards (-76)
11. Joey Logano (-85)
12. Ryan Newman (-106)
13. Kasey Kahne (-124)