It’s funny how you can enjoy something even if you know the final outcome. Kind of like the New York Yankees playing a Little League team. That’s what we saw at Martinsville. Whenever you go to Martinsville Speedway, you always know that Team Hendrick will win, but you watch anyway, maybe hoping they won’t or maybe hoping they will. It’s a matter of personal opinion.
After Jimmie Johnson won the pole of Friday, it was pretty obvious what was going to happen. After 500 laps, over 300 led by Johnson, the multitudes, almost all of them stayed until the bitter end. The only answer is you never know what’s going to happen at Martinsville, especially in the final laps.
I’ve seen Richard Petty and others run away and win a race, but you always knew there would be a late caution to even things up. If fans remember last April when it appeared that Johnson and Jeff Gordon would win only to see Clint Bowyer take them three wide at the end, only to see Ryan Newman come out the winner. This April, even though there was a late caution, caused by Kurt Busch’s spectacular brake failure, Team Hendrick still prevailed. Johnson won, but there was doubt, and that’s what it’s all about. And yet, there was most of the usual suspects nestled in the top five. It happens over and over and yet they still come.
As I looked out of the press box window on this day, I saw pretty much a full house. Many of them were rooting for NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but even they knew who would win and yet they came. The drama was not so much there. The result was preordained. Johnson and Gordon have this place figured out. Even if Dale Jr. and Kasey Kahne do not, they live on the technology of those two teams because they do well. While the Gibbs, Roush, Childress, and Penske teams fight until the end, they are out of their league.
Sure Denny Hamlin is good here and on occasion a surprise like Ryan Newman last year happens, it’s usually a Hendrick team in Victory Lane, whether it be the quartet of official teams or one of the satellites (see Stewart, Tony or Newman, Ryan). So why do they come?
It’s the action of the short track. Sometime way in the future, someone will realize that this is the racing that was meant to be. The roots of the sport were established at places like Martinsville, and that’s where real racing lives. In 36 races, only three short tracks remain. Martinsville, Richmond and Bristol still exist, hosting only six of the 36. That’s a shame, but they come year after year, not to see high speeds, but to see real racing.
The final verdict is clear. Just like the Country Music Awards, now held in Las Vegas, and the Sprint Cup Awards Banquet, also held in Vegas, something is wrong here. NASCAR needs more short tracks, two races at Darlington, a return to Rockingham, and a renewal of its roots. Yes, they came out to Martinsville to see what they already knew what would happen, but would they at Chicago ? Doubtful. That’s a lesson that should be learned somewhere. Everybody love country music and NASCAR, but you have to know where your rabid fans are. So far that hasn’t happened. It’s the future of the sport. God Bless Martinsville and the short tracks. May they flourish forever.