Long: Love it or hate it, the finish was what Martinsville is about

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — As boos cascaded over Joey Logano’s celebration, Martin Truex Jr. smiled, raised both hands and pointed his thumbs down.

It wasn’t the encouragement Chase Elliott asked fans for in this race last fall when he swung his arms wildly to urge them to boo Denny Hamlin louder, but the sentiment was the same. The fans responded then and they did Sunday.

For as much as fans like to cheer, they love to boo at Martinsville.

That’s among the things that makes this historic speedway special. Fans are close enough to the track that they are a part of the event, particularly afterward when they register their approval or disapproval in a way first started by Romans after gladiator fights. The Martinsville crowds are never shy about letting their feelings known at a place where good and bad can be separated by a car number.

“It depends on who is doing it,” Hamlin said of it is OK to knock a competitor out of the lead at the end. “If it’s your favorite driver, you love it. If (it’s not), it’s dirty.”

Fans cheered and booed after Joey Logano’s bump-and-run him to the win and Truex promising vengeance.

For as much as the finish riled the crowd, the day’s epilogue proved as tantalizing.

Truex called Logano’s last-lap move a “cheap shot.’’

Logano’s 81-year-old car owner, Roger Penske, chided Truex, saying Truex is “a racer and should know better than to say that.”

Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn quipped: “I’m happy I don’t have a baseball bat or a jack handle right now.”

Logano defended his maneuver as a “classic bump‑and‑run. That was the move that our sport and Martinsville, in particular, was built on.”

Kyle Busch, not one to be excluded from such fun, said that “Truex got chicken——ed.”

Logano is right. So is Truex. It’s just as Hamlin says. Who is your driver?

What happened Sunday was the essence of this sport. NASCAR is about beating, banging … and booing.

Sunday, fans got to be a part of one of the most dramatic finishes at the historic track. It ranks just below the 1987 fall race when Dale Earnhardt led Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip entering Turn 3 on the last lap. Waltrip won. He hit Labonte, who hit Earnhardt. Labonte and Earnhardt moved up the track. Waltrip slipped under both to take the checkered flag.

Fans cheered and booed that day.

Good vs. bad.

Sunday, it was Logano vs. Truex. Throughout the track’s history, it’s been others.

But there’s always been someone to cheer and someone to boo.

And that’s what they do at this little track where the fans are close enough to be heard.