The bump n’ run.
It’s classic. The Cup boys are beating up some short track and come the very last lap, the leader appears to be in somebody else’s way. The runner-up applies pressure in the correct quarterpanel, the leader heads nose first into the wall and the assailant flies past to collect the checkered flag.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s what Matt Kenseth thought he would be able to pull off, more or less, when Jeff Gordon headed to the final green flag of the Martinsville race Monday afternoon. Except Kenseth forgot one little thing… he was messing with one of the best in the business.
I’m sure many things ran through Gordon’s head when his car got a little wobbly thanks to the No. 17. I’m positive most of them can’t be aired on network television or even our little newsletter. In fact, DirecTV had to pull the plug on Jeff’s HotPass channel when he turned the air blue. But, he didn’t let the emotion get the better of him. Not really.
In an instant, Gordon decided one thing for certain — Kenseth would not be reaping any kind of success by attempting to take out his age-old rival. The No. 24, with no real thought for his vanishing win, turned a little right, a little left and a little right again and ensured the Crown Royal Ford was no longer pointed in the direction necessary to cross the finish line.
You might think I and many other Gordon fans would be crushed. I will admit to a temporary flare of fury. After all, we had been about to see our boy add another trophy to his mantle. However, this wail of frustration was tempered after the post-race interviews. And not necessarily by Gordon’s.
It was Kenseth’s admission of an error in strategy that made me smile. “It was a dumb move on my part,” the driver of the No. 17 admitted. “I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I’d go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake.”
Long ago, in another decade, I’d be enjoying a Bristol race. There was beating. There was banging. The laps wound down and we were left with some poor bastard riding around, just waiting for it… the bump n’ run. You knew it was coming. Certain drivers just weren’t programmed with Mark Martin’s polite “I’ll move over” attitude.
If Wallace’s No. 2, Earnhardt’s No. 3 or Labonte’s No. 5 was anywhere in the vicinity, we were about to see some carnage. Year after year, it proved true. And yes, these were the men who taught the pilot of the No. 24 how to rule the roost at these venues.
So, yeah, it was a dumb move. What were you thinking? This was not the first time the No. 17 and No. 24 found each other’s bumpers at a short track. I can’t think of a time where they backed off and let the other one go. Bumpers, fingers, mouthing off and physical demonstrations have highlighted these friendly competitions in the past. There was just no way Gordon was just going to lay down and take the beating.
Awesome. Totally freakin’ awesome.
But as predictable as Gordon’s retaliation was, so was the initial assault.
Kenseth has been labeled many things over his brilliant career. Meek and easy-going are not two adjectives that have been applied to the quiet, consistent and highly competitive driver. He will not back down in a pinch. He does not accept second place as a fantastic finish to his weekend.
So, maybe hindsight is 20/20, but thank goodness a race is not run in the vacuum of clairvoyance.
Kenseth saw one thing as the field came out of turn 4 on that last restart — the fiery tail of the No. 24. Just one car between him and victory lane. What other choice did he have? Somebody was gonna have to wreck, and this was Martinsville. Accelerator down, beat the bumper in front of you, win the race.
Was the ending a foregone conclusion? Gotta love that 20/20 vision. Yes, it was.
Did we have fun getting there? Oh yeah.
Do we want to do this again? Please!
Will the short tracks always give us a heart-thumping, crazy-ass finish? Seeing as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano took advantage of the scramble between the pair of Cup veterans, I’d say the young guns are learning the lessons well. No worries there.
You see, sometimes an awesome afternoon isn’t dependent on your favorite guy rolling into victory lane. Sometimes it’s good enough just to see him be who he is… an unapologetic, unyielding competitor with one thing on his mind — winning.
Jeff, Matt, great race guys.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.