Martinsville Speedway

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Make donation to Martinsville toy drive to take laps around track

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Have you ever dreamed of making a lap around the oldest track in NASCAR?

Today and tomorrow, Martinsville Speedway is making that dream come true.

With a toy or monetary donation for the Grace Network of Martinsville and Henry County, you can drive your own car around the half-mile track in Martinsville, Virginia.

A $10 donation gets you five laps and $20 gets you 10 laps.

The laps are being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET today and Friday.

Ryan: Why it’s good that NASCAR can’t stop talking about Martinsville

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The contact lasted for a few seconds, and the conversation lasted for days.

There is no greater validation of Sunday’s game-changing wreck at Martinsville Speedway than the nonstop voices still chattering about the etiquette and implications of Denny Hamlin forcefully moving Chase Elliott from the lead with two laps remaining from the scheduled finish.

On Thursday morning, the lines of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel remained jammed with fans wanting to voice their opinions about the season’s most memorable crash.

In a season constantly sidetracked by inane arguments over encumbered penalties and sometimes inexplicable officiating, this is what made Martinsville the best race of the 2017 season.

Yes, the racing was excellent, but its resonance was even better.

It rekindled the low-frequency rumblings of schedule changes built on more short tracks in a shorter season (or at least a more compact one with midweek races). That’s a testament to the highly watchable ovals that are conducive to full-contact action in tight quarters (as Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in his postrace Periscope).

But it also seemed an acknowledgment that short-track feuds are just a preferable narrative, too. If the discussion always revolves around what’s happening on track, it sucks oxygen from the arcane weekly talking points that keep the focus on the most banal of topics.

Are the LIS platforms working properly? What is the rule for being below the white line on a restart? Is it better to have two- or three-day race weekends?

The minutiae of those exhausting debates seemed to have a residual and subliminal effect on how some fans processed the last 30 laps at Martinsville.

Presented with the most scintillating stretch of racing this season, social media and SiriusXM was filled with some who insisted it could have been improved if only there were more officiating and less racing for the win.

Or something.

If that would have happened at a short track, Hamlin would have been sent to the rear!

Yes, perhaps that’s how it would be handled on a Saturday night feature race. But this is the big leagues, a ticket was at stake to race for the country’s biggest championship, and officiating isn’t why 10,000 people regularly fill Bowman-Gray Stadium to watch its legendary Modifieds.

It’s because of indelible moments such as those Sunday at Martinsville, where the grandstand pandemonium afterward reminded Earnhardt of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“We had a lot more short tracks on the schedule back then, and it seemed like we were going to places like that all the time and seeing action like that on the regular,” he said Friday. “It had been so long since I have gotten out of a race car and heard the crowd go through so many different emotions for 20 to 30 minutes after a race. It was just incredible to be a witness to that and to feel that energy of the crowd so plugged into what was happening around the race track.

“It was really a magical moment, I thought, for anybody that likes racing.  It was really cool.”

It’s why people still were talking about it four days later.

A few other stray observations:

Regrets, he had a few: Hamlin issued an apology to Elliott in the immediate aftermath and since has said he was “too aggressive” in how he attempted to take the lead.

So what might he have done differently?

Well, if technique had to be evaluated, he might have waited until the middle or the exit of turn 4 to apply the pressure. The chances were much higher of spinning Elliott by bumping him on corner entry (particularly given the No. 24 Chevrolet barely had gotten back on line after an out-of-shape lap from slamming past the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski into the lead).

But it also wasn’t that simple: Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota was much better on longer runs, so waiting probably wasn’t a luxury he had. If he hadn’t made the move then, there were only nine scheduled corners left in the race.

Facing those circumstances, most drivers are tossing away their scalpels in favor of a hammer and tongs to secure a victory.

Also worth considering is that Elliott entered the Round of 8 as the lowest ranked in points. If he wins, it’s the worst-case scenario for any other title eligible drivers besides Martin Truex Jr. because it makes the pathway forward on points much more difficult than if Truex won (or in this case, Kyle Busch, who might have been the next-best scenario even though Hamlin seemed miffed at getting bumped from the lead by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate).

–Role reversal: It isn’t just the myriad near-misses at a breakthrough victory for Elliott that have caused frustration, it’s the way they’ve transpired. Frequently, it has seemed (especially in restarts at Michigan or the closing laps at Dover) that Elliott has lacked the assertiveness.

That might have been why Martinsville seemed to galvanize his burgeoning fan base so much. Many times during the race, Elliott didn’t back down from protecting his turf on restarts, and the power move he put on Keselowski also was commendable for its gumption.

The classy way in which he handled his dispute with Hamlin — standing his ground without swinging fists – also had to reinforce the perception that Elliott isn’t as deferential as his self-flagellating demeanor can make him seem.

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With a 12th at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson never seemed as ordinary at a track where he has nine wins, most among active drivers and tied with Jeff Gordon for third all-time behind Richard Petty (15) and Darrell Waltrip (11).

What drove it home even more was the performance of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Elliott, who consistently has outraced Johnson throughout the playoffs. Before Martinsville (where he led a race-high 123 laps before the crash left him 27th), Elliott finished ahead of Johnson in the first six races with an average finish of 9.1 and 341 laps led vs. Johnson’s 11.3 average finish and 29 laps led.

Could the seven-time series champion’s No. 48 team glean anything from the No. 24?

“With (crew chiefs) Alan (Gustafson) and Chad (Knaus), they do have different philosophies in how they build a car,” Johnson said Friday. “We can look at different things and say directionally this is what they are trying to achieve and implement that into our cars, but they are not the same. It is really difficult to build cars the same and especially in the different shops like what we have, but it does give us great optimism knowing that our equipment can go that fast.

“We just haven’t figured out our mousetrap like we need to. They have been the mark, I think, for us to look at and say ‘All right, our Hendrick Motorsports equipment can at least do that,’ and we need to get there.”

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It was largely overlooked by his surprise elimination at Kansas, but Kyle Larson’s performance at Martinsville again showed why the track remains a stumbling block to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver becoming a versatile all-around champion.

The 37th was his second-worst finish at the 0.526-mile oval but wasn’t an anomaly. In eight starts, he has only one top 10 and only four top 20s at Martinsville.

His chances will be strong whenever he reaches the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Larson will need to shore up his results at Martinsville if he wants to avoid being in must-win situations at Texas or Phoenix in the future.

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When was the last time a crowd reacted as raucously to late-race contact that determined the outcome of a Cup race?

The default answer after Sunday was the Aug. 28, 1999 Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway when a chorus of boos greeted Dale Earnhardt’s celebration in victory lane after he turned Terry Labonte for a victory.

But the postrace scene at Martinsville had echoes of the Aug. 23, 2008 race at Bristol, which Carl Edwards won by bumping aside Kyle Busch with 31 laps remaining.

Just as Sunday at Martinsville, the track’s video boards focused on the postrace interviews in the aftermath, and the reaction was similar as a crowd of about 150,000 vacillated between cheers (Edwards) and jeers (Busch) as the cameras toggled between the winner and runner-up.

Considering how much it enhanced the emotions and intensity each time (and let’s hope it happens more frequently than every nine years), tracks should be encouraged to treat postrace fireworks with as much entertainment value as the event preceding it.

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Outside of the weight discrepancy for third-place finisher Clint Bowyer at Martinsville and the aerodynamic modification for Elliott at Chicagoland, there haven’t been any major postrace inspection penalties during the playoffs – notably none relating to rear-end suspension violations that were a theme of the season.

When Hamlin’s winning Southern 500 car was found out of tolerance after the last speedway race of the season, there was split conventional wisdom about whether it was the first of many penalties to come or the last test of the limits by a championship contender before the playoffs.

While there still are two 1.5-mile races to get through starting with Sunday at Texas, the indications are it seems to have been the latter.

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Hendrick Motorsports director of vehicle engineering Diane Holl, whose career has stretched from Formula One to IndyCar to NASCAR, was the guest on the most recent NASCAR on NBC podcast.

Holl, who worked for Ferrari, Benetton and McLaren in F1 and Tasman Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar, has worked in NASCAR for nearly a decade, starting at Michael Waltrip Racing before joining Hendrick nearly two years ago.

“I think there’s a very fine line between cost, development and theater,” the Guildford, England, native said. “When we used to go to Japan for the IndyCar race, I had ‘entertainer’ on my visa. That’s where engineers get engrossed in, ‘I want the best part,’ but in reality, it’s the entertainment on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon that is going to make this championship, this series continue and the fans who support it. NASCAR has to protect that.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here or visiting the www.ApplePodcasts.com/nascaronnbc landing page.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

Ryan Blaney says hard racing with Kevin Harvick at Martinsville was ‘nothing personal’

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Ryan Blaney said his conversation with Kevin Harvick after last weekend’s race at Martinsville was a “stern talking to’’ but said he felt all was good between the playoff drivers.

Blaney and Harvick made contact throughout the Martinsville race and then had a discussion afterward on pit road.

“Obviously we weren’t happy with each other,’’ Blaney said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “Both of us had our conversations and what we were upset about. I felt like we handled it fine. It was a stern talking to.

“I have a lot of respect for Kevin. He helped me a lot when I got started a couple of years ago. It is just Martinsville racing pretty much. We had a talk, and I think we are fine. I am sure we are over it. Those were just to reassure that we were good.”

MORE: Blaney posts fastest lap in Cup practice 

Blaney explained what bothered him about how Harvick raced him at Martinsville.

“The issue that I had was the first time he started running us over we were trying to pass somebody, and I can’t go anywhere when you are beating the bumper off me when I am trying to pass somebody,’’ Blaney said.

“After that, we were struggling and that is when it happened again. I think it was just two things, it is Martinsville and we are in the playoffs and I am not going to just let someone go, especially someone we are racing in the playoffs. In this round, there are so many good cars. I don’t think he was really pushing us around or being a bully or anything like that, it was just really hard racing. I have seen that plenty of times over the years at that place and watching on TV. It was nothing personal, just two drivers racing hard.”

Blaney finished eighth at Martinsville but is outside a transfer spot to the championship round in two weeks in Miami.

Texas, though, presents a strong chance for him to win and earn a spot in Miami or finish well enough to climb into a position to advance by points. He won both stages at this track in the spring. He finished 12th after sliding through his pit box on his final pit stop.

“I think we just need to have a solid weekend like we had in the spring race and try to finish it out better,’’ Blaney said. “We got behind there and slid through my box the last pit stop which put us back. We need to have a good, solid race.

“That is the best thing we can do. Cut down on mistakes like we have the whole playoffs. We haven’t had huge mistakes. We have been consistent and gotten good finishes. We are coming to a track that has been decent for us in the past and the 1.5-mile stuff has been really good for us. Hopefully we can have a solid weekend and a good run on Sunday and put ourselves in a decent spot going into Phoenix.”

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Chase Elliott: ‘I’m still pretty frustrated’ about being wrecked at Martinsville

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott admits he is “still pretty frustrated” about Denny Hamlin wrecking him for the lead in the final laps at Martinsville, but says he and his team can’t be consumed by it this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

After seeing his chance to win end against the wall at Martinsville, Elliott’s 27th-place finish leaves him last among the eight playoff drivers heading into Sunday’s race.

“As far as last week goes, I don’t know that my thoughts are a whole lot different today than they were then,’’ Elliott said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “I’m still pretty frustrated about it. Really, as the week has gone along, it’s given me a lot of time to think about how close we were to going to Homestead. I think with anything else, that will drive you up the wall more as you think about it. Definitely not happy about it. I don’t think a whole lot has changed.

“No, I’m not going to answer you all’s questions whether I’m going to get him back or not, so don’t even ask because you’re not going to hear it from me. Just don’t go there. I don’t think my mindset has changed a whole lot from that standpoint. This is a point in this round where we’re going to have to perform these next two weeks to have a chance now at Homestead.’’

Hamlin stated after the race it was not his intent to wreck Elliott and apologized on social media shortly after the race. Hamlin said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he has offered to have a conversation with Elliott but that had not been answered

With two races left to determine the four drivers to race for the championship in two weeks in Miami, Elliott says he doesn’t have  time to worry about Hamlin.

“I’m not overwhelming myself with him or any other driver in particular as the weekend goes along,’’ Elliott said. “I don’t think you can do that and look yourself in the eyes and think you have a fair shot if you have that mindset coming into a weekend.

“We’re going to go about our business as we always do and hope we make the right guesses and I make the right judgement calls and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and the team makes the right calls throughout the weekend to have a  chance to win.’’

About the fan reaction last weekend at Martinsville where the crowd booed Hamlin and cheered Elliott loudly, Elliott said: “I wasn’t expecting to have that or hear that or see it throughout the week. I don’t know if refreshing is the right word, but it’s been pretty encouraging to see that kind of support regardless of the circumstance. To see people encouraging you and wanting you to go and try to win this weekend. To me, that’s been kind of the message from a lot of fans, hey, the best thing you can do for the fans that supported you is to try to go and win one of these next two weekends and give yourself a shot at Homestead. I’m looking forward to giving that my best shot.’’

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NASCAR America: Eddie Gossage using Martinsville fallout, Dale Jr. to promote Texas race

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Eddie Gossage hit the jackpot this week.

The president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway has quite a bit on his plate to promote this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the 1.5-mile track.

Not only does he have Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s last race at the track to entice fans, he now has the controversy between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin that erupted last weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

After Hamlin wrecked Elliott from the lead two laps from the scheduled distance, the fans at the track showed their displeasure as the two drivers had a heated discussion on the backstretch. Their uproar continued on social media and the radio waves throughout the week.

The lights at Martinsville were still hot when Gossage, who has operated Texas Motor Speedway since it opened in 1997, went to work to use the mayhem to his advantage.

Soon, an advertisement declaring Elliott as “The People’s Champion” was debuted by the track.

Gossage called into NASCAR America to discuss this weekend’s race and how he’s promoting it.

“You want to come after Martinsville and Talladega, because after both of those races everybody’s mad at everybody,” Gossage said. “Certainly from Martinsville last weekend there’s some stories coming out of that one that we didn’t quite see happening and it does make it more interesting.”

Gossage added that his track isn’t the best place for someone to seek payback for an accident that happened on a short track.

“Let’s be honest, at 195 m.ph. I’m not sure they’re going to be getting retribution this weekend or anything like that, ” Gossage said.

But that won’t keep Gossage from milking the feud for all it’s worth.

Watch the above video for the full interview.