Martinsville is old school, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr. At a time when so much is changing in the sport – new drivers, new cars, new rules, new tracks – it is that connection to the roots of the sport that makes Martinsville Speedway so special.
“The last time we were there with Chase (Elliott) and Denny (Hamlin) and then the crash at the end – everything that was going on – it was crazy,” Earnhardt said on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “It really felt like we went back to the ’80s and ’90s and the heyday of the sport when we were racing at a lot of short tracks every month with this kind of thing here going on just about every two or three weeks.”
On the final lap of regulation at Martinsville last fall, Hamlin bumped Elliott into a spin. On the ensuing restart, Kyle Busch bumped teammate Hamlin out of the lead and that eventually led to Hamlin spinning on the last lap of the overtime period.
Elliott finished 27th one lap off the pace. Hamlin finished seventh.
After the race, Elliott drove Hamlin into the wall and the two drivers had a heated exchange afterward. Earnhardt climbed from his car to watch the drama on the jumbotron.
“I remember leaving that track and pulling out onto the highway, in my mind thinking if NASCAR could have this every week none of us would have nothing to worry about,” Earnhardt said. “We wouldn’t be able to print enough tickets, wouldn’t be able to build the stands high enough to get the people in here who wanted to see this in person.”
The tight confines of short track racing led to rivalries in the past. An incident was rarely forgotten and was carried over from week to week, according to Earnhardt.
Two weeks later when Elliott and Hamlin were racing for second at Phoenix, Elliott did not give Hamlin any racing room and pinched the No. 11 into the wall. Neither driver advanced to the final round of the playoffs.
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