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As the Wheel Turns

Watch highlights from Sunday's race at Martinsville.
Watch highlights from Sunday's race at Martinsville.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Well, I just have to say it is good to be back home in Franklin, Tenn. I’ve been back and forth these past three weeks, basically, on a whirlwind tour.

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The week before the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Mike Joy and I were in Bathurst, Australia, calling a race for SPEED. I came back the following Monday, laid up for a couple days and then came over to Charlotte for Sprint Cup race week as I had a bunch of things to do for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

I went back home from Charlotte the Sunday morning following Matt Kenseth’s victory there. I was only home for a couple days when Mike Joy and I headed back to Australia, this time to the Gold Coast to call another race on SPEED. We called two absolutely exciting road races.

By the time I came home last Monday, I will admit that at 64 years old, I was worn out. What’s that old line “no rest for the weary?” Trust me, I was weary.

As I have told you many times, I love irony and all this traveling in October created one I didn’t realize at first. As you know, Australia is ahead of us time-wise. So I would leave Australia on a Monday and get back to Los Angeles and it would just be Monday morning. Now that means, with the way the calendar fell in October, I will have had, count’em, seven Mondays. You had Oct. 3, 17 and 31, but two Mondays on the 10th and 24th. Whew, I sure hope I don’t have to do that again anytime soon.

Because of being on my way home from Australia, I was only able to follow the Talladega Superspeedway race on Twitter. Then when I got back, I got up to speed on everything that happened. I know there will never be a style of restrictor-plate racing that makes everyone happy. For me, I love this kind we have now. It creates more exciting racing and sure beats that single-file or pack racing we’ve seen in the past. I also believe it is much safer.

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I wonder if they shouldn’t just make the races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega simply money races. Just don’t award points.

The fans pay their hard-earned money to attend and folks at home commit their time to watch those races on TV. Why should they when folks are worried about wrecking and just stay in the back all day out of the eye of the storm? I don’t like that kind of strategy of hanging out in the back and then making a charge near the end, but it’s the way racing at those tracks, particularly at Talladega, has evolved.

Now as to Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, within reason I will say I just saw one of the best Martinsville races I’ve seen in a long time. Now make no mistake, it wasn’t because of all the wrecking that was going on. You know where I stand on that.

I have been very vocal in the past and will continue to be about simply running over each other is not racing. That’s wrecking. These guys are the best drivers in the world and I was disappointed in the way some of them drove Sunday at Martinsville. It was some really reckless driving that showed no patience or even skill at times.

Now sure, 43 race cars on a little half-mile paperclip of a racetrack is going to create issues at times. I don’t dispute that. I’m just saying some of the things we saw Sunday were out-and-out reckless. It hurt the flow of the race. You really can race the entire event without tearing your car up.

It just takes a lot of talent, patience and skill. Just look at those front guys at the end of the race. Their cars were pretty darn clean.

Now with all that being said, all those cautions did benefit the guys with cars that weren’t very good or damaged. You had more opportunity to hit pit road and let the crew try and make it better for you.

Sunday’s winner, Tony Stewart, is a prime example of that. At one point, he was at risk of going a lap down when the caution came out. That allowed him to keep that from happening, plus the work the crew did on the ensuing pit stop brought that car to life. Tony went from fighting to simply stay on the lead lap to actually passing cars and moving forward.

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His crew continued to make the car even better on later cautions. By the end of the race, we all saw how really good that car was. On the last restart, Tony was able to pass Jimmie Johnson on the outside and go on to win his third Chase for the Sprint Cup race of the year.

Martinsville has solidified itself, in my book, as a real wild-card race under the Chase format. Sunday was no exception for how it affects those still with championship dreams. For all practical purposes, Matt Kenseth is now out of the running. Even though he finished second, Jimmie Johnson didn’t gain that much ground on leader Carl Edwards.

So now it looks like the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is down to two guys – Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. That’s amazing in the fact that before the Chase even started, Tony Stewart was very vocal that he and his team weren’t very good and really didn’t deserve to make the Chase.

Now with three wins, he has a legitimate shot to win another championship only eight points behind Carl with only three races left.

There are a couple of guys out there that are hanging close. Kevin Harvick is 21 points out. Poor Brad Keselowski, if it wasn’t for getting caught up in someone else’s mess Sunday late in the race, he would be a lot closer right now than the 27 points he is behind. Everyone else behind those four is basically out of it. You never can say never in our sport, but now those other eight guys can simply race to win and concentrate on their 2012 programs.

IT GOT WILD

Martinsville brought wrecks galore and another Tony Stewart win. We've got the best photos.

So it’s basically in Carl and Tony’s hands to settle this. Maybe a surprise will pop up by the time we get to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a third driver, but I look for it to be the usual deal when we get to the last race of the year – down to two guys.

Now we’re off to the Lone Star state. Hopefully this weekend will be “T” for Texas and not “T” for trouble. Those Roush Fenway Racing cars run well on the 1.5-mile tracks. Carl Edwards has to be hoping he didn’t use up everything in the Luck Bank at Martinsville because he escaped there with an amazing ninth-place finish. Once again, he struggled at Martinsville. He had a dog of a car all day long. It was so bad he even got lapped twice. Maybe because he had a dog car, the racing gods smiled on him because after all, he did get the Lucky Dog award twice.

That got him back on the lead lap and he was able to salvage a ninth-place finish. That is championship quality right there. With all that said, things have to be getting warm for Carl at the top.

As you all know, Tony Stewart’s nickname is Smoke. With three wins in the Chase, Tony is as hot as ever. Carl better watch out because something tells me Smoke has just turned into Fire.

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards

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