Time Out Everyone: Last Lap at Martinsville Was A Classic Not Classless

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IMarch 31, 2010

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 29:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Ford slides up the track as Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, race for the lead during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2010 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Had Denny Hamlin not won the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 in the fashion that he did, his first victory of the 2010 season was most likely to be overshadowed. While Hamlin and his team celebrated and Team Denny fans around the country rejoiced over the late race comeback, two drivers that finished behind him were pointing fingers.

Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth tangled with two laps to go allowing Hamlin to skate by for the win and it was on between the two after that. Hamlin did the burnout and Jeff Gordon and his fans just burned. Actually they were pretty pissed and still are.

Gordon complained about Kenseth among other things, saying NASCAR stole the victory from him with a green-white-checkered finish. However, Gordon didn’t realize that he would have been the guy stealing something since he was bound to finish third had the dominant Hamlin and Kyle Busch not pitted when a caution flew with nine laps to go.

Instead he inherited the lead and felt entitled to win the race. But when Kyle Busch was put into the wall, hard by the way, NASCAR threw the caution. How dare they, was Gordon’s response. However, that’s neither here nor there, back to the fans.

Jeff Gordon fans are making sure their voices are heard and that Hamlin’s win doesn’t take away from the bigger issue: Jeff Gordon didn’t win, and it was Matt Kenseth’s fault.

For months, years even, NASCAR fans have complained that the races are boring. Saying that drivers just rode around, the finishes weren’t exciting, and someone other than Jimmie Johnson needed to win. On Monday at Martinsville none of those things happened. After 500 laps around the paperclip everyone can look back and proudly say, “that’s how racing should be.”

After a preseason that had Robin Pemberton proclaim, “Have at it, boys” that’s exactly what 43 drivers did. From beating and banging and plenty of side-by-side action that included 24 lead changes, it was by far the best race of the season and maybe at Martinsville. When Kenseth and Gordon decided to play bumper cars down the backstretch that’s exactly what Pemberton had in mind when saying that now infamous line.

Kenseth vs. Gordon is “have at it, boys.” Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski in Atlanta was not.

More beating and banging is what the fans wanted, was it not? Then why is everyone in America so mad? Why are Jeff Gordon fans using every media outlet they can to proclaim things like, “Matt Kenseth is trash,” or “Matt the Brat overdrives and blames someone else again. Surprise!”

Along with their driver Gordon, his fans must have been watching a different race. To say that Kenseth was over-driving when going for the win at Martinsville involves beating and banging, it involves the bump and run that Kenseth attempted to do. It involves Gordon then turning left and rubbing his door going down the backstretch and sending him up the track in turn three.

Any NASCAR fan should have loved what they saw, it doesn’t get more exciting than that when racing for a win, but instead the name-calling has begun.

Reading fan responses, it’s as if Kenseth was supposed to allow Gordon to win, “Kenseth cost Gordon the win,” has appeared on the screen more times that I care to count, along with many F-bombs and other not so flattering words about the Wisconsin driver. Was he supposed to push Gordon across the finish line? Kenseth has the same job that Gordon does, to win races and using the front bumper is perfectly legal.

It’s not like Gordon hasn’t done so in the past, but now that he was on the receiving end of it, the whole world has been thrown off its axes.

On a summer night at the Bristol Motor Speedway in 2002 a 31 race win-less Gordon was behind Rusty Wallace and needed a way to get the lead. What did he do? He used the chrome horn to perfect the bump and run with two laps to go and went on to win the race. Afterward Wallace understood saying, “It’s just racing, I guess.”

Gordon felt the same way when he flat out ran over Kenseth at Chicagoland in 2006 for the win. It came after Kenseth had spun him on the last lap at Bristol earlier that year and the two got into a shoving match on pit road. What about in 2007 when Gordon and Johnson got into a beating and banging match at Martinsville for the win? Johnson beat Gordon to the line in a photo finish after Gordon did everything he could to move Johnson out of the way.

In all of those incidents things were fine, it was just racing, but on Monday when the two got together again, “Matt Kenseth is an idiot that can’t drive.” Seriously? If Jeff Gordon and his fans can’t understand that it was racing and that’s going to happen then they both are in the wrong sport. When drivers get out after 500 laps and their cars look like they just went to war and feelings are hurt you know it’s been a good day.

But when fans are cursing out a driver and saying that doing his job is wrong, there’s a problem. Wanting to be passionate about your driver and be upset he didn’t win is one thing, trying to say that NASCAR isn’t a contact sport and bumping isn’t allowed is another. Think of it this way, had Kenseth or any other driver been in the lead Gordon would have done the exact same thing that happened to him.

It’s Martinsville, that’s racing the way that it should be, fans should be this mad if there wasn’t bumping and banging and it was an anti-climatic finish.

Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth are two champion drivers that are hungry to win. They drive hard, they speak the truth, and it won’t be the last time they tangle. At least their tangling when racing for the win instead of just riding around mid-pack and trying to pick fights with each other.

Everyone calm down, neither driver did anything wrong, just be thankful that it wasn’t a day full of Jimmie Johnson dominating and winning… again.