After a race full of various emotions, the sense of being overwhelmed fell over Martinsville Speedway as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his fourth race of 2014.
The championship is out of the question for the driver of the No. 88; he failed to advance to the Eliminator round after the brawl at Talladega Superspeedway. That fact doesn’t erase his will to win. In actuality, it’s strengthened.
That strength was apparent Sunday afternoon, when Earnhardt, Jr. clawed his way to the top of the heap. Various obstacles made the victory even sweeter. With short track temperaments and cautions galore around every corner, it was a risky venture, but the No. 88 braved it all and ended up in victory lane.
Emotions are always high at short tracks, yet things were elevated this weekend at Hendrick Motorsports. Ten years prior, a plane carrying Rick Hendrick’s family and close friends crashed. Everyone on the aircraft passed away, including Hendrick’s son, Ricky. Each team pays tribute after every win; as they do the hat dance and put on HMS hats, they turn them backwards for a photo op. Ricky Hendrick was known for wearing his hat backwards, and he is not forgotten.
Earnhardt, Jr. was friends with Ricky, and the emotion was obvious in his post-win interview. He also mentioned his father, racing legend Dale Earnhardt, Sr., saying, “My daddy had these grandfather clocks in the house. I’ve wanted one since I was a kid. I went out and got one.”
He and Hendrick shared a hug on TV, and the win was put into perspective. A dad who lost his son and a son who lost his dad found success and solace in each other. That is a true example of NASCAR and what relationships it creates.
Martinsville brought not only emotion but also retaliation; many instances spiced up the 500-mile event. The most notable scuffle occurred between Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne. What started as an attempt to make room for the No. 5 resulted in the No. 55 spinning. A displeased Vickers came back and turned Kahne, and the vice versa happened a few laps later. Though Kahne is typically a quiet driver, he fought back. That was the most surprising part of it all, making it a key element to the afternoon’s festivities.
Because Earnhardt, Jr. is no longer a Chase contender, this puts pressure on those who are still in the hunt. Jeff Gordon came home second, securing the top of the Chase grid. It was Kevin Harvick who had a difficult day, dealing with a deep starting position and tussling with Matt Kenseth. Brad Keselowski also struggled with mechanical issues. These top pick for the Final Four fell into the Fatal Four –the ones who may be cut after Phoenix International Raceway.
Short tracks always conjure tons of emotions, and Sunday afternoon was no exception. From anger to tears, it was all there at Martinsville Speedway. Let’s hope it continues on for the remainder of the Chase.
Chase Grid after Martinsville Speedway
1. Jeff Gordon (–)
2. Ryan Newman (-3)
3. Joey Logano (-4)
4. Matt Kenseth (-5)
5. Denny Hamlin (-7)
6. Carl Edwards (-20)
7. Brad Keselowski (-31)
8. Kevin Harvick (-33)