Monday, October 23, 2006

Review: Martinsville II

I'm writing this on Sunday, during the races, and I have to say Thank God for MRN, because I'm trying to follow both the NASCAR race, and the Brazilian Gran Prix, which is the last Formula One race of the season, and, incidently Michael Schumacher's final race of his career. Even if I weren't flipping, I'm still happy to have MRN on to follow the race at Martinsville, because a lot is happening during the television commercials. Mainly restarts--after five cautons, three restarts happened during commercials on NBC.
When ABC/ESPN get their turn, I'm hoping they use the split screen for the ads, like they did for the IRL races, where you can still watch the race while the commercials are on.
The race at Martinsville, was everything we could hope for. Granted, we didn't want to see the wreck on the first lap, which was once again the result of drivers trying to race the first lap as if it was the last, but the remainder of the race featured everything that is great about short track racing. It was actually fairly clean for a short track race--there were few instances on pit road involving contact between cars, and the majority of the sixteen caution periods were caused by single-car spinouts with minimal damage to cars. There were some great moments of racing during the entire course of the Subway 300--lots of drivers working well in traffic, racing each other as cleanly as possible on a half-mile oval. There was some real racing going on, such as Junior racing Jeff, Jeff racing Tony, and Bobby Labonte coming back from two laps down to lead some laps and finish third.
Not that we wanted to see Jeff Burton lose the points lead the way he did, with engine problems which put him out of the race, but what that did to the points standings is simply awesome to those of us who are paying attention to the points race. Now, with Matt Kenseth back in the lead, Kasey Kahne, in eighth place is only ninety-nine points out of first place. It is, with four races left, anybody's championship. But I get ahead of myself.
I genuinely feel that we got to see some of the best racing this year during the last hundred laps or so of the race. Nobody was going to give up anything, but the drivers were very respectful of each other. The only downside was David Regan, who will be driving the #6 car next year, but showed that he is not quite ready for the Cup level, causing many problems for other drivers, especially Ken Schrader, who could have possibly won the race. Smoke retaliated for Schrader, and I imagie he was congratulated for that by every other driver, except for Kyle Busch, who unfortunately hit the wall while trying to avoid Regan's spinning car. Otherwise, there was some great racing between Tony and Jeff, there, where we could see the two best trying to beat each other while avoiding beating on each other. But the race between Home Town Boy, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps was outstanding. Denny did everything he could, running on seven cylinders as he did nearly the entire race, to beat Johnson. He was definitely handling the turns very well, but he just didn't have the power to maintain the lead on the straightaways. I was certainly yelling for him, and he didn't lose the race for not trying.
But I'm not unhappy that Johnson won. He raced to that victory, and earned it well. There was some booing among the cheers--when Jimmie got out of the car he gave the booers The Finger, much to the delight of the crowd--but they don't throw beer cans at Martinsville, to their credit.
Two years ago, four members of the Hendrick family, including the universally liked Ricky Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's son, died when the plane numbered N501RH crashed on its way to the race at Martinsville. Johnson's victory was not without memory of that tragedy. This was another tribute to the memory of the seven who died in that crash. So, even though I was pulling for Bobby Labonte or Denny Hamlin to beat Johnson, my congratulations to Jimmie Johnson for his victory is sincere and heart-felt.
With the Chase for the Championship being reset for all practical purposes, I am still picking Matt Kenseth to win the Cup, because I feel he is every bit as good a driver as Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon, and a second championship now would help to prove that. There are some other drivers, if Matt doesn't win , with whom I would not be dissapointed if they won the championship instead, not necessarily in this order:
Jeff Burton
Mark Martin
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne
Kevin Harvick
Next week is Atlanta, a very fast intermediate track. The Chase is anybody's once again, and this makes it exciting. I'm looking forward to some more great racing in each of the four final races.

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