By: Ashley McCubbin
No matter where you looked around Martinsville Speedway, whether at the front of the field or the back, it seemed bumpers were being tagged with plenty of contact to go around for positions. The reason behind that was pretty simple according to all the drivers after the event.
The small size of the short-mile flat oval promotes close racing, with everybody fighting right together for every bit of ground they can and trying to stick to the bottom groove. Combined with a lot of things being at stake from a spot in the Championship 4 to wanting to secure a ride for 2021, it was the perfect recipe for everything to boil over.
Grant Enfinger found himself right in the midst of everything, involved in contact for the lead on three separate occasions that saw another competitor go around or suffer a flat tire. His aggression paid off, though, as he was able to secure the victory and his place as one of the drivers in the Championship 4.
Though knowing he made some enemies on Friday night, is he worried moving forward? He doesn’t think so.
“Obviously anything can happen but we’re kind of going into Phoenix the same way we came into here – we have nothing to lose,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “So I don’t feel like blatantly just wiped anybody out or anything like that. I don’t know – there may have been even more craziness behind me, it was probably crazier than usual Martinsville from my standpoint. I don’t think anybody can fault us for what we did. We were just aggressive and in a must win situation and able to take advantage of it.”
On the flip side, Zane Smith was trying to avoid all of the contact, knowing he just needed a solid night to secure his Championship 4 bid. The GMS Racing driver’s strategy paid off, as he placed third and remained above the cut-line.
“I feel like if I fell into the trap of moving each other to that extent, I probably would’ve ended up wreck,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “There were plenty of times I wanted to go to the top and fight for the lead but you’re just putting so much at risk. If you’re in the 98 (Enfinger), 99 (Ben Rhodes), 26 (Tyler Ankrum), the guys in a must-win, I think for sure they did the right thing. But I was in a tough situation to where I was already on the bubble and locked in, so I was just trying to stay safe.”
Though in reality, things potentially began to boil over last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway with Ben Rhodes being served a double finger salute from Christian Eckes after turning him on the straightaway. There also have been other instances this year, to the extent that Sheldon Creed who locked himself via winning at Kansas Speedway was warned to “not be in a bull in a china shop” over his radio to avoid making enemies.
Ultimately, while the drivers are responsible for their own actions, Rhodes also believes NASCAR has built the perfect combination to build it even more.
“This is a very aggressive series and a lot of it just comes from the motor package, gearing package, the way the playoffs are structured, and the tracks that we are going to,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “NASCAR is smart. They know how to structure it to create the most action and give it a short track feel everywhere we go. That’s what’s happening and that’s the game we’re playing and its par for the course. We’re playing the game and what happens, happens, and I hate controversy again but it’s a rough series right now.
“A lot of people are racing without giving any and a lot of respect isn’t given on the race track to anybody. Even people that I think used to race respectfully are losing their tempers or maybe racing harder than they used to. So I think that’s just the common theme. I think the intensity is just super high this year.
With how aggressive the racing has been the past couple of weeks and now seeing a race that Smith compares to Bowman Gray Stadium, it leaves the door open to wonder what will happen with a championship on the line next weekend at Phoenix Raceway. While the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series has put on the best competition of all three divisions this year, Enfinger feels the action will be toned down due to Phoenix being bigger in size.
“It is technically a short track, but it doesn’t race anything like this,” he commented. “I don’t think they’ll be as much bumping and grinding as much when we get going. Obviously, the restarts there when it can spread three, four, five-wide there through the dog leg will get crazy, guys losing the right side on the restarts with guys rolling them on the top – that’ll get crazy. But as far as rooting a guy out of the way, pushing him through the corner, you’re not going to see that as much. The restarts will be what you want to watch for at Phoenix.”