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NASCAR Martinsville postscript

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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Kenseth blows it and goes high as Denny Hamlin motors to win down low
If there was a reason to assign theme music to the NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend at the Martinsville Speedway you could have played the Carpenter's "Rainy Days and Mondays Always Bring Me Down" on Sunday. Then 24 hours later, following that spectacular race finish, The Mamas and The Papas' "Monday Monday Can't Trust That Day" would have been appropriate. In the case of race winner Denny Hamlin you could have used Humble Pie's "I Don't Need No Doctor." Of course by now we know that we didn't need fill in music to ease the irritation of having to wait until Monday to see the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. That race was well worth the wait. With those thoughts in mind let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP to Denny Hamlin for a driving performance that had him move from fourth to victory lane during this race's green-white-checker finish. This race actually had three different leaders on the final lap with a finish that had all of the Monday racers in the grandstands, as well as those of us watching at home, on their feet.

A combined WHAT'S-UP/THUMBS-UP goes to Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford for making a gut wrenching pit road call for tires so late in the race while the entire NASCAR nation screamed WHAT??? in perfect unison. Both Hamlin and Kyle Busch came down pit road for tires. The WHAT'S-UP was the fact that everyone thought that Ford had just handed the race win on a silver platter to Jeff Gordon with approximately eight laps left. The THUMBS-UP is of course for the fact that the plan actually worked.

Lining up ninth for the restart, Hamlin caught a huge break from Busch's misfortune. Busch's Toyota went bouncing off of the wall before the white flag fell on the race. That brought out the final yellow flag of the race and the anticipated green-white-checker finish.

We all saw what happened next. Gordon and Matt Kenseth ran into each other while Hamlin was driving into racing holes that weren't large enough for his Toyota. Hamlin, injured knee and all, won the race, Mike Ford felt the elation of going from zero to hero within a matter of moments and Jeff Gordon entertained us with his post race anger.

A THUMBS-UP goes out to J D Gibbs, President of Joe Gibbs Racing, for his comment on Hamlin being brought down pit road. After the race Gibbs said "I told Mike, (Ford), I never really doubted him but in reality I was cussing him."

THUMBS-UP to Hamlin for a spectacular burn out display after winning the race that seriously damaged his FedEx Toyota. That also leads to another THUMBS-UP for Gibbs who, after watching the celebration's carnage told his driver "that will cost you my friend."

THUMBS-UP to Joey Logano who somehow, in the mess that ensued during the final laps , found his way to second which gave Gibbs Racing a one-two finish.

Despite his stellar performance in this event, I have to issue Jeff Gordon a WHAT'S-UP for some of his post race comments. He accused NASCAR of intentionally throwing that final yellow flag to create the exciting green-white-checker finish while pointing out that there were other cars, from earlier moments, who blew tires and bounced off of the walls but the race remained under green.

Gordon also made it clear that the contact between himself and Kenseth on the white flag lap was well intended and said "the 17 got into the back of me, I made sure he wasn't going to win the race." At the time Gordon also admitted that he hadn't seen a video replay of the chain of events. Perhaps he should have asked to see one before he made those comments.

What did NASCAR say about all of that late race beating and banging and the barbed wire comments that followed it? Nothing at all. THUMBS-UP to them for taking that position.

I have to give a somewhat reluctant WHAT'S-UP to Matt Kenseth who, after the race, said he probably should have just settled for a third place finish and a good points day. First off, Kenseth had nothing to apologize for. He was simply doing his job. Item one in the job descriptions for these drivers states that they're expected to do whatever it takes to win these races. They all had to know that a shootout finish at Martinsville was bound to involve sheet metal contact.

WHAT'S-UP with all of those post race comments that said Jimmie Johnson had a terrible day? Yes, he's a six time winner at Martinsville and, yes, he was expected to dominate and win this event. Even the Las Vegas bookies said so. Yes, he finished ninth and wasn't much of a competitive factor in this race. But when you leave a rowdy place like Martinsville with a top ten finish as well as becoming the new championship points leader that's not exactly my definition of a terrible day. If you want to talk to someone about a terrible day at Martinsville call Kevin Harvick.

THUMBS-UP to all of the 43 competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The Goody's Fast Relief 500 was a very exciting event from start to finish and highly entertaining.

THUMBS-UP to the NASCAR fans who showed up on a Monday morning to watch this race. I wonder how many of them called in sick so they wouldn't miss it.

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THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick for an outstanding performance that led to winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck race at Martinsville. A win like that is also sweeter when you're the team owner. Harvick, who supplements his Sprint Cup schedule with some part time truck events, won his fourth consecutive truck race dating back to Phoenix from last November. It also his second, consecutive, series win in the still young 2010 season.

THUMBS-UP to Ron Hornaday Jr for his second place run that gave Kevin Harvick Inc a one-two finish. After crashing in the first two races of the season, that finish was exactly what the Hornaday team needed. Then there's the matter of how he got there. Whether or not that's a THUMBS-UP or a WHAT'S-UP depends on what you thought you saw and how you feel about it.

Those of us who dwell out here on the "left coast", where Hornaday is from, will tell you the end of the Martinsville race was vintage, old school, Ron Hornaday Jr. It was that proverbial bull in the china shop approach to racing that we all watched and supported during the early days of his career. Believe me when I tell you that everyone from the "left coast" was yelling THUMBS-UP by the time the Kroger 250 was over.

Hornaday's aggressive driving at the end of the race took out Johnny Sauter who in turn took out Mike Skinner and that moment leads to a THUMBS-UP to Sauter for the conversation he had with Hornaday on pit road after the race. That conversation probably didn't accomplish very much. They rarely do. But it was highly entertaining on live television. I especially enjoyed the part when Sauter also accused Hornaday of intentional brake checking so he could help his boss, Harvick, win the race. Some how I don't think Harvick needed any one's help during the race.

THUMBS-UP to the debut of rookie driver Narain Karthikeyan who last Saturday became the first ever driver from India to compete in one of NASCAR's national touring series. Considered one of the biggest sports heroes in his native country, Karthikeyan's resume includes several years experience in Formula One and LeMans road racing.

Granted, his debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last Saturday had some growing pains, perhaps even a few chest pains. He found himself in the middle of two yellow flag moments in the race and frequently used the lucky dog pass to keep his truck on the lead. lap. But he finished in a very credible and respectable 13th and he has plenty of reasons to be happy about it.

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Sprint Cup race winner Denny Hamlin gets the final THUMBS-UP of the weekend for his decision not to put off badly needed knee surgery any longer. As we all know Hamlin sustained a tear in his ACL during a basketball game last January. The original plan was to have the required surgery at the end of this racing season. However, a deterioration in the knee forced him to schedule the surgery for this past Monday morning. But rain in Martinsville on Sunday pushed the race to Monday morning which in turn pushed Hamlin's hospital check in schedule to late Monday afternoon. But the traditional obligations that comes with winning a Sprint Cup race moved the surgery up to Wednesday morning.

Over the years I've known too many people who have procrastinated on matters pertaining to knee injuries. Each and every one of them lived to regret that decision. Hamlin's decision not to wait until November to have his surgery is a very good call.

The final WHAT'S-UP goes to ESPN2 and their "NASCAR Now" program who chose to present us with, what they termed, an in depth interview with Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards regarding the, you guessed it, Atlanta incident with Brad Keselowski. They even divided the interview in half so they could run it over two days, last Wednesday and Thursday.

Needless to say there was nothing in this interview we haven't already dissected at least 50 times. Someone needs to remind ESPN that this incident is O-V-E-R ! Anything and everything associated with the race in Atlanta occurred back on March 8th. Even the two drivers involved with the incident are smiling and talking to each other. It's time to put this incident on the shelf where it belongs until it's time to produce the annual 2010 highlights show at the end of the season.

Many of you will point out that Fox Sports also showed the Atlanta wreck Sunday morning. That's true, but they get a little leeway in the WHAT'S-UP factor because when it's raining on race day you do whatever's necessary to fill the air time until the race if officially cancelled.

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