Remember when the racing at Bristol was more like it is at Martinsville? We could rely on at least a few races each year where it was short track heaven, rootin’ and gougin’ and chrome horn and you just loved it.
Like Harvick said, “Bent fenders, hurt feelings… I love it.”
A cold snap kept the stands remarkably empty but the racing was as hot as it gets. With everything on the line for 8 drivers, the intensity was up and the non-playoff drivers wanted to win just as much as anyone else, making it tough to pass traffic.
For most of the race, it looked like one of several drivers might be taking the checkers. Brad Keselowski won the first two Stages and led 108 laps. Race winner Kyle Busch started 14th and led 184 laps. Denny Hamlin had a stout car and led 7 laps. Jimmie Johnson led 24 laps after starting deep in the field. Joey Logano started on the pole and led 59 laps. Chase Elliott started 3rd and led 123 laps including being the leader with three laps to go.
The racing was good throughout the race and had cars vying for position left and right. Of course this led to some feelings getting hurt and tempers flaring. Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney were next to each other almost all day and continuously banged into each other. Harvick felt he was faster than Blaney and hit him in the rear time and time again. Mostly this happened getting into out coming out of a corner where Harvick was just a little better. But Blaney took exception to all the bumping and brake-checked Harvick once just to let him know he wasn’t too happy with his behavior. They also exchanged a few side slams. But all in all, they ran a clean race.
You can’t say that about new Public Enemy #1, Denny Hamlin. Hamlin behaved so badly he got booed at what he considers his home track. If you missed the race, Hamlin basically dumped Chase Elliott with three laps remaining. Elliott went from leading the race, potentially getting his first victory and a golden seat at Homestead to smacking the wall and finishing 27th. The wreck brought out a caution of course and in the ensuing overtime finish, Kyle Busch beat everyone on the restart and was hell bent on holding off Keselowski, Truex and Hamlin. As Kyle did that, Hamlin used up his tires and talent running down Elliott and slid backwards, banging into any car near him. On the final lap, just yards short of the finish line he got in Ryan Blaney and for some unknown reason, drove Blaney into the fence and wrecking darned near the rest of the field.
Hamlin and Elliott had words after the race with Hamlin later giving a ham-handed apology instead of owning the wreck and his actions. If you are going to say “I didn’t mean to wreck him, just wanted to rattle his cage a little.” then just fess up. We get it, it’s the playoffs and the only way you had a shot at winning was to wreck a guy. Drivers were getting moved all race long – they just weren’t dumping the leader of the race going into a corner.
Afterwards, Harvick and Blaney exchanged words with Harvick basically telling Blaney if he is going to park it at Martinsville, then he should expect to be run into. But as I said, that was normal short track racing. Hamlin’s move was classic short track dumping.
All of this puts Chase Elliott in jeopardy. And funny enough, Denny Hamlin is in the doghouse as well, but 22 points in front of Elliott. Blaney and Johnson round out the bottom 4 drivers with Johnson just 3 points back of Harvick for the final transfer spot.
Johnson won at Texas this spring and Hamlin finished 26th. He’ll have to do better than that to stay in front of Elliott who finished 9th at Texas. Unless Lady Luck smiles on Elliott in the next two races, he is in a must win situation if he wants to move on. There is no way the three drivers in front of him will all have really bad races two weeks in a row, plus Hamlin is no slouch at Phoenix. Harvick will have to stay in front of Johnson the next two races in order to make it to Homestead. Normally that would be a tall order, but the 48 isn’t having a 48 kind of year. But the team does seem to have a golden horseshoe somewhere because even with bad starts and spins, they have managed to hang near the leaders.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 21st and finished just outside the top 10 in 11th. That ended his chance for 3 straight top 10 finishes. He can certainly rebound at Texas, which is a track he can excel at. Keep the faith, Jr. Nation.