THOMAS: The Spin Seen Around The World Isn’t Going To Hurt NASCAR’s TV Ratingsby Hunter Thomas October 31, 2017
When Chase Elliott’s No 24 NAPA Chevrolet went flying into the outside wall during the closing laps of Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, my jaw dropped, as did everyone else’s who saw the crash in-person.
After the race, Hamlin said that the contact wasn’t intentional and then he sent out a tweet apologizing. He even mentioned that it was the first time that he had ever spun the leader in a race before.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) October 30, 2017
I’ve never driven a NASCAR stock car before, so I’m not going to blame Hamlin or Elliott for the accident; however, the crash is exactly what NASCAR needed heading into the second race of the Round of 8. Let me break it down for you.
I was standing in Turn 4 taking photos when the contact between Hamlin and Elliott occurred as they entered Turn 3. I knew right away what was about to happen because not only did nearly the same thing occur in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race the day before when Matt Crafton got into the back of Christopher Bell but because I’ve seen many races in my lifetime.
Both drivers dove into Turn 3, and Hamlin jacked Elliott’s car up and sent him spinning into the outside wall. I don’t know if Hamlin was going too fast or if Elliott backed the corner up too much. All I know is that the speeds of both cars didn’t match up. Elliott made heavy contact with the wall, and the accident not only cost Elliott his first-ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, but it potentially cost him a berth to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Following the wreck, nearly all of the fans in the grandstands booed Hamlin who is a Virginia native. It was something that I have never personally witnessed in-person at a NASCAR race before. Sure, it has happened many times before, but it has been a while. I remember seeing folks throw beer cans at Jeff Gordon’s car at Talladega Superspeedway on television when I was younger, but it has certainly been a while since I’ve seen an entire grandstand disapprove of a single driver during a race.
In fact, I haven’t witnessed an amped up atmosphere like that since Matt Kenseth crashed Joey Logano at Martinsville while Jeff Gordon went on to take the checkered flag. During that particular afternoon, fans were so amped from both ends of the spectrum that I don’t think anyone knew what emotion they should have been feeling, but that was in 2015.
NASCAR races are filled with excitement from a strategy standpoint and from the level of competition that hits the track each weekend, but one thing that has been lacking in the sport is rivalries. I’m not talking about two drivers getting upset with each other. I’m talking about Earnhardt vs. Gordon, Allison vs. Yarborough, Petty vs. Pearson and Busch vs. Spencer, etc. We see drivers get a little upset with each other a few times a year. We even see retaliation, but what happened on Sunday night was what I think to be a birth of an actual rivalry. I don’t know either of the drivers personally, so I can’t 100% comment on their character, but I will say that the implications of that particular crash were enormous on so many levels.
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepping away from full-time competition at the end of the season, NASCAR fans are yearning for another driver to take over the reins of representing the sport as the most popular driver. Elliott is the perfect candidate. First and foremost, he’s the son of Bill Elliott who is a NASCAR Hall of Famer. He’s from Georgia, so he represents the deep south. Also, he’ll run the iconic No. 9 car in 2018, and he came up through the ranks of the grassroots divisions to make it “big time”. If you’re a traditional NASCAR fan, what’s not to love here?
So, now you’ve got a young driver who has all of those qualities, he has potentially been done wrong, and now the ball is in his court. Elliott gained a ton of respect from the fans on Sunday night by confronting Hamlin and not straight up fighting him. While on pit road, Elliott even enticed the crowd to boo the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Journalist, Matt Weaver (Twitter: @MattWeaverAW), captured video of a fan confronting Hamlin after the race, so emotions were just so high that I’m not even sure if folks realized that Kyle Busch had won. Okay, maybe they did, but with all due respect, Kyle Busch locking his self into the Championship 4 certainly wasn’t the top story of the night. It was Hamlin vs. Elliott, as well as the last-lap pile up coming out of Turn 4.
Hamlin didn’t win the race, so he didn’t necessarily benefit from a seventh-place finish. Elliott lost out on a win and finished 27th, so the situation was just flat out terrible for his championship hopes. Now the series heads into the final three races of the season.
Once again, although I cover Hamlin and Elliott every weekend, I don’t personally know these two drivers, but I can’t wait for the upcoming races at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. I’m not enticing poor sportsmanship because that’s not classy, but how cool would it be to see Hamlin and Elliott duke it out on the track for a victory and a spot in the Championship 4! Folks will not only be tuning in to the races in the coming weeks to see who wins the race or see how their favorite driver performed, but now fans will be watching to see how these two drivers race around each other.
Welcome to the NASCAR Playoffs, y’all!