It was the best of the times, it was the worst of times…
Isn’t that how the fall race at Martinsville Speedway usually works?
Think back to the race in November 2015, when a soon-to-be retired Jeff Gordon crossed the finish line first and screamed, “We’re going to Homestead!” during his celebration, a nod to the win being an automatic qualifier into the championship round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. It was the ninth and final win for Gordon at The Paperclip, a place where he became king during his hall of fame career.
That afternoon, Gordon got just as much attention as Matt Kenseth, who made headlines after slamming his car into race leader Joey Logano, pushing him into the wall in Turn 2, ending his day, and eventually his quest for a Cup Series championship.
What about the fall of 2017, when Kyle Busch was the one celebrating in victory lane, holding a winner’s press conference while Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott exchanged heated words following an incident at the end of the race with Elliott leading at the time, going for his first Cup Series win.
Even last October, Logano stood atop his car on the front stretch amid more jeers than cheers from a not-so-friendly Martinsville crowd, confetti falling over his head and a grandfather clock awaiting his name. Race runner-up Martin Truex Jr. took his sweet time leaving the track, upset about Logano’s bump and run in the final 200-meters or so of the race to come away with the win.
There’s an old refrain in the world of writing that boils down to the idea that, “There are no new stories, only different ways of telling them.” This is true of cinema, of television, and oftentimes even sports. There are winners and losers in every battle. There are heroes, and there are zeros. There are celebrations and there are tears.
Most writers who speak of the lack of new stories do so with ire. Mark Twain said in his autobiography, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
And in the world of TV and movies that is probably true. There are no new stories. Do we really need another super hero movie or a reboot of the 90’s classic Clueless? But in the world of sports, it’s what we’ve come to expect, and why we watch.
Watching Martin Truex Jr. exuberantly climb out of his car Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway, it was hard to know if the crowd was yelling to help Truex celebrate, or yelling because of the other theatrics going on on pit road between Logano and Hamlin, whose “simple discussion” about an on-track incident turned into a mini professional wrestling match.
“I’m glad I’m not fighting. I’m glad I won,” Truex said in his press conference following the race.
Truex was the hero, and celebrated his win accordingly. It was especially fitting, as he was the zero in the same story a year ago.
“This is a huge win for me personally,” Truex said. “Part of the reason I was so mad last year wasn’t because of Homestead. I felt like we could still get there, and we did. I wanted to win this race. I wanted to win at Martinsville because it’s been so tough for me. The first couple times I came here, we were terrible. I mean, awful.
“For me it’s just a personal thing. You want to be able to win everywhere. You want to be able to conquer all the things that you say... To finally get it here, it just feels good. So Homestead, yeah, it’s awesome, but standing here today, the win here and taking that grandfather clock home is even bigger to me.”
On the other side, Logano was the villain, a year after coming away as the victor. The names are the same, but the roles change with each passing season.
Truex will go on to the NASCAR Cup Series championship race, with a good chance of winning a second title. It wouldn’t be a shock. Two of the last three champions had a playoff win at Martinsville on their season’s resume.
The story will be repeated, and we’ll keep watching. Because unlike another rebooted TV show or remade classic film, in sports, even if the stories are the same, the journeys, the drama, the cheers and the jeers, never seem to get old.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.