By: Ashley McCubbin
When you are racing in tight quarters, there is bound to contact, and most likely unintentional. The deeper you are into an event and the closer to the end, the chances of that happening grows – and that is exactly what happened on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Alex Bowman had a quicker car than Denny Hamlin, and was able to run him down for the top spot. Though being a one groove track, completing the pass is sometimes harder than it may appear, and welcome to the pickle we found ourselves in. Although the No. 48 was able to get underneath the No. 11 in the corner, with them side-by-side, contact ultimately sent Hamlin around backwards.
Bowman was adamant post-race that he did not mean to get into Hamlin, stating the fact that he got loose. You can see the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet wash up on the replay, and he does not have a reputation for being aggressive in these situations.
Hamlin also has a right to be upset, with having watched his chance at winning spin away with seven laps remaining. There’s nothing wrong with him sharing his displeasure with his fellow competitor on the frontstretch afterwards, either. That’s why fans flock to the short tracks – the drama that comes with it.
However, sometimes anger and frustration can drive you to say things that should not be said, and here is where a line is crossed.
Hamlin began his comments in stating that Bowman is a “hack,” whereas here’s a guy that fought to get to this point in his career. He was almost shuffled out of the sport, driving back-half equipment, but proved his worth and got the opportunity. He has also won more races than Hamlin this year, as well, which doesn’t bode well for the other comment in he has “ran terrible,” and does not run equal to his teammates. At any point this year, we’ve seen all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the top-five.
Hamlin also stated that he gave Bowman room and wanted to race him clean, which may have been the case. However, the driver of the No. 11 has developed a reputation as he has a history with Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe, and others for aggressive instances. A bunch of drivers follow the code “race how you want to be raced,” and you could say that’s what happened today. Anybody remember a similar incident with the No. 11 at Martinsville?
Ultimately, you can’t plead for aggressive at all costs and say “that’s short track racing” when you come out positively (him and Logano), but whine and say it’s totally wrong when the shoe is on the other foot. That is where the frustration begins to lie from some in the fan base.
In no means should Hamlin change his course of action, though. It’s a nice change of pace to see pure honesty out of a driver, and get their raw feelings rather than a robot. It’s nice to see the aggressiveness as it keeps things entertaining. That’s why we love NASCAR, right?
His teammate Busch knows all about that tight rope to walk, and expressed his own frustration with Keselowski following the event. Keselowski was eliminated from the playoffs, and dumping his competitor coming to the line for second would only improve his finishing spot by one. Was he taking out his own frustration on falling short? Probably, and it helps they have a history together.
Busch also wasn’t the only driver that Keselowski found today, with him and Elliott coming together. The No. 9 was fading back with the handling falling off, and unfortunately, the pair went for the same piece of real estate at the same time. The only saving grace was the Hendrick Motorsports driver being locked in the playoffs by points and consistency.
With only one race in the winter, and all of this on everybody’s leaving Martinsville, the championship event at Phoenix Raceway could be very exciting with some sparks flying. After all, you could leave your competitor with a lasting impression of your unhappiness.