Danielle Trotta, co-host of NASCAR Race Hub on FOX Sports 1, joins FOXSports.com editors Tom Jensen and Joe Menzer to break down this week’s hottest NASCAR topics in the latest edition of Bump ‘n’ Run.
1. Given all the circumstances involved, how huge of a win was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s latest at Martinsville?
Danielle Trotta: I think the story he told post-race, when he said he sat on a small oval area rug where one of the grandfather clocks his dad won at the track also sat, using his Matchbox cars to run imaginary races while listening to the real races on the radio, puts it in perspective. That’s just cool stuff. He has a sense of history and a way of telling it that is really special. You could just tell this win meant a whole lot to him, and he has a sense of what it means in the bigger history picture for the sport.
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Tom Jensen: It was a massive victory, and for many reasons. For one thing, it was the 10th anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash at Martinsville, so it was a hugely emotional win.
Joe Menzer: The pure joy he and his team show in Victory Lane every time they win is something unique and special. But this time, given not only his dad’s history at the track but what happened in the 2004 Hendrick plane crash, it seemed even more than usual.
Trotta: Larry McReynolds said he’s known him since he was a little kid. He’s seen him win two Daytona 500s, two Nationwide championsihps, lots of races. But he’s never seen him as emotional as he was in Martinsville.
Jensen: The other thing is, for as often as they’ve won there, Hendrick teams have been in a similar situation before — with two of their cars running one-two — and not had it work out so well. Remember the spring of 2012 at Martinsville? Hendrick Motorsports had 199 wins with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson running one-two on a green-white-checkered restart when Clint Bowyer wrecked them both. So it was big that this time not only Dale Jr. won, but Jeff Gordon finished second.
Trotta: As a relatively new fan of the sport, for me personally, I wasn’t around when Dale Earnhardt won his first Martinsville race. I hear Larry Mac talking about being his crew chief, but I never experienced it for myself and sometimes I’m a little jealous that I didn’t. But now I can say I was around for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first win there, and that’s a cool story I can always carry around with me.
Menzer: I think you hit on something there, Danielle. Junior has a way of carrying himself, and having fun at what he does, that really resonates with fans — and really any observer of this sport. You can’t help but love it. That’s why he’s been voted Most Popular Driver 11 consecutive times.
And, of course, I loved his post-race line when he said, "We’re going to drink a lot of beer tonight!"
Trotta: You would like that line, Joe!
Jensen: And let’s not forget that not only was this Junior’s first Martinsville win, but in all likelihood his last with Steve Letarte as his crew chief. So, yeah, it was epic.
Trotta: Yeah, this might be the last race he wins with Steve Letarte as his crew chief. They showed tremendous resolve after being eliminated from the Chase a week before. I think that’s why you saw Letarte so emotional post-race, too, and he got to share this with Dale Jr., which was really special.
Jensen: Junior looked more emotional than when he won the Daytona 500 earlier this year. Personally, I think NASCAR should have announced Monday morning that Junior was back in the Chase. Now that would have been exciting.
Menzer: Way to stir up Junior Nation, Tom! I’ll have to admit that the pragmatic side of me wondered a little if that team would be better served having Letarte step into a different role for these four races, and maybe let Greg Ives step in as crew chief to get a head start on next year. But to think that way obviously would have been wrong. Maybe Rick Hendrick knows a little more about this than I do!
Trotta: Yeah, maybe just a little bit.
2. Will Kevin Harvick really wreck Matt Kenseth to keep him from winning this championship if he can’t have it for himself?
Jensen: Of course not. That’s just the testosterone talking. For one thing, if Kenseth really could win the championship and Harvick dumped him deliberately, there would be hell to pay from NASCAR. In the next driver’s meeting, Mike Helton probably will say something to the effect of, "If you wreck one of the Chase drivers, you better wreck all of them."
Trotta: We talked about this on the Race Hub show, and AJ Allmendinger attributed some of what Harvick said after the race to there being so much adrenaline and emotion flowing in that moment — and then suddenly a camera is in your face, asking for a comment. Obviously, what Matt did was unintentional, and I think maybe once Kevin gets to Texas he will realize that.
Menzer: Perhaps, guys. But I think Harvick may be the one guy who actually will follow through on one of these threats if it comes to it. He might do it and deal with the consequences later.
Trotta: When we looked at replays of the incident on Race Hub, Larry and AJ and I all agreed that Matt overdrove the corner a little and wheel-hopped — but there was nothing intentional.
I just feel like there is a line between sportsmanlike and unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s like a line in the sand you don’t cross. Him wrecking Matt would be like someone intentionally putting a quarterback out of the Super Bowl. Once he sees the replay and maybe talks, I don’t see Harvick following through on his threat.
Menzer: Well, Matt seemed to think he might deserve it. And these are unusual circumstances. No one really knows for sure how these guys are going to react in the pressure cooker that is these next three races — or two, really, to determine who’s going to Homestead.
Trotta: Speaking of Homestead, Kevin and Matt both were testing there this week and were going to be around each other more than in a normal week. They’ve been friends. I think they’ll probably talk it out.
Menzer: That’s no fun!
Jensen: Even having said what I said earlier, if neither one of them is in position to win the title, then, yeah, Harvick might put Matt into the wall just like he did with Kyle Busch at Homestead a few years back.
Trotta: I think it’s interesting that if you throw Harvick in the mix because Stewart-Haas runs Hendrick engines, Team Penske and Hendrick engines have accounted for all the wins at 1.5-mile tracks this year. So your pick of Logano is a strong one.
Jensen: And I think in this round of the Chase, the lack of speed at 1.5-mile ovals will really hurt Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kenseth.
Trotta: Right. I don’t see that changing at this point in the season. Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t had the horsepower at those tracks all season. Neither has Roush Fenway Racing or, for that matter, Richard Childress Racing – which still has Ryan Newman sitting pretty in the Chase despite him not having won a single race yet.
Menzer: So do you have a pick, Ms. Trotta?
Trotta: I think because he’s so deep in the points now, Kevin Harvick is in an almost must-win, Game 7-type situation. They’re bringing the same Chase-winning car he drove in Charlotte to Texas. I think that will help them pull it off, so I’m picking the No. 4 car.
Menzer: So we’re in agreement that one of the Chasers will win this race? What about Junior possibly going to Victory Lane again!? Then they really might have to let him back in the Chase!
Trotta: Hey, that’s not that crazy of a thought — him winning the race, I mean. He drives one of the Hendrick cars we talked about, they’re riding a wave of momentum — and he’s won at Texas before. We could call him the spoiler favorite, if you want to call it that.
Menzer: I’m still sticking with Logano. It’s not just that he won at Texas in the spring; I’m looking at his overall Chase results. They’re really quite spectacular. He’s been by far the most consistent — and of the two Team Penske drivers with two wins apiece in the Chase, he’s ticked off far fewer people so he’s less likely to get wrecked.
Jensen: In seven Chase races, Logano’s average finish is 4.29 and at the three 1.5-mile tracks so far in the Chase his average finish is 3.0. Logano won the first Texas race this year by passing Jeff Gordon on the last lap. Those two figure to be prominently in the mix again on Sunday. Gordon has finished first or second in four Chase races so far and he’s feeling it, too, no doubt.
Menzer: But if a non-Chaser wins again, what about Kyle Larson? The rookie just keeps knocking on the door and finished fifth at Texas in the spring.
Trotta: Good point, Joe. You just reminded me to put Kyle in my fantasy racing lineup this week! So thanks!
VIDEO: A look back at some of the biggest wins in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career