From an outsider perspective, a paper clip and a hotdog stand hold menial value. But in the world of stock car racing, they might just be worth their weight in gold.
With its legendary hot dog concessions and an unmistakable paper clip shape, Martinsville Speedway has been entranced in NASCAR lore since the very beginning. The only track to be on the NASCAR calendar in every season of its existence, the southern Virginia track serves as a welcomed venue once again for the penultimate race of the season this weekend.
Ironically, its place late in the season has turned the short track into a can’t-miss fixture. Although Martinsville’s roots do run deep, its place in history has been truly established in the not so distant past, mainly because of its tendency to host compelling postseason drama. Prior to the playoff era, few Martinsville moments can be found on the NASCAR highlight reels. Yet this weekend, it seems like we are almost guaranteed to have a race for the record books.
So let’s take a look back at Martinsville’s most iconic moments in the 75-year history of the facility. First, some honorable mentions.
- Harry Gant wins for a fourth time in a row in 1991.
- John Andretti wins for Petty Enterprises in 1998.
- Clint Bowyer dive bombs both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, allowing Ryan Newman to take the victory in 2012..
- Gordon wins for a final time in 2015.
- An angry Denny Hamlin bumps into Alex Bowman during his victory celebration in 2021.
5. “He Won’t Win the Damn War”
With a trip to the Championship 4 on the line in 2018, Martin Truex Jr. was one corner away from advancing to the final round in hopes of defending his 2017 title. However, second-place Joey Logano had other ideas.
Logano flew into the final corner and used Truex’s Toyota as a brake, moving the No. 78 up the track and allowing Logano’s Ford to take the checkered flag first. In his post-race interview, Truex famously told reporters the Logano “may have won the battle but he ain’t gonna win the damn war.”
However, fortune was again not on Truex’s side, as Logano won the war by going on to claim the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
4. Labonte Denies Earnhardt a win
In 1987, three future NASCAR Hall of Famers were locked in a three-way bumper-to-bumper battle. Dale Earnhardt led a hard charging Terry Labonte, while a patient Darrell Waltrip licked his chops in third.
Sure enough, an overzealous Labonte spun out in the final corner, bumping Earnhardt’s Chevrolet up the track and allowing Waltrip’s Hendrick Motorsports’ entry to cruise out of the final corner and emerge victorious.
The win would be Waltrip’s 71st career victory.
3. Tragedy to Triumph
In the early 2000s, Johnson emerged as one of NASCAR’s next superstars. Much of this was in part due to the opportunity given to him by the Hendrick family. Rick Hendrick and his son Ricky hired Johnson to drive a new Hendrick Motorsports entry in 2002. The pairing saw almost immediate success.
Johnson began racking up wins, and a spring day at Martinsville in 2004 seemed to be no different. However, as Johnson crossed the finish line first, no celebrations were to be had.
Only hours earlier, the sport got word that a team lane carrying Ricky, along with nine other Hendrick family members and employees, had crashed and left no survivors.
And while there was indeed was a winner, the celebrations were about as muted as the first overcast clouds that day, strongly symbolizing the heaviness of the afternoon.
2. Kenseth Takes Out Logano
Warring factions often leave no winners and two losers. That was the case as the playoffs were in full swing in 2015. Leading up to Martinsville, drama ensued at Kansas Speedway when Logano crashed Matt Kenseth from the lead in the late stages of the contest. Kenseth was left in the dust while Logano went on to claim the checkered flag.
When the circus rolled into Martinsville a few weeks later, a still fuming Kenseth saw a golden opportunity for retribution.
Caught up in an early crash, a heavily damaged Kenseth intentionally crashed hard into Logano, leading to one of the loudest crowd reactions in history as both race cars sat mangled on turn 1. Logano was ultimately knocked out of the championship, while Kenseth was accessed a two-race suspension.
1. The Hail Melon
The greatest moment in Martinsville history, and arguably all of NASCAR history, came just one year ago thanks to a watermelon farmer. Needing a couple of positions to advance to the championship round, Ross Chastain had a decision to make: Settle and try again next year, or do something utterly unthinkable.
The unthinkable actually happened. Instead of slowing down in the brake-heavy turns at Martinsville, the Floridian shut his eyes, turned right into the wall and mashed the gas. What followed was something only seen in a video game. Using the wall as a slingshot, Chastain passed five cars in one corner and launched himself not only in the championship, but into NASCAR lore.
Although he would ultimately lose the championship to Logano, Chastain’s “Hail Melon” move was cemented as one of NASCAR greatest moments of all time.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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