When the opening race of the Playoff's third round was over a number of drivers were mad at each other and the frozen fans at Martinsville Speedway were booing so hard the steam coming out of their mouths hovered over the track like fog.  They were boiling despite the plummeting temperatures and I was loving every minute of it, having watched the finish from the grandstands.

I was there instead of the nice, cozy media center because my 80-year-old mom decided she wanted to scratch "The Paperclip" off her bucket list and, after driving all the way from Vermont, she wasn't about to leave early just to get warm because it might mean missing Chase Elliott's first Monster Energy Cup Series victory.

Boy, she and a few thousand of her friends were some kind of peeved when Denny Hamlin crashed the Georgia driver hard in turn three to rip the checkered flag out of his hands and oh how they howled with pleasure when Elliott ran into the Fedex Toyota on the cool down lap. They didn't care, of course, that only seconds before that Elliott had done a full "metal MMA" body slam on Brad Keselowski to get the lead.

A Virginia native and a five-time Martinsville winner, Hamlin was used to getting raucous cheers at what he considers to be a home track.  Now, he was being heckled at jet engine decibels and one big, menacing dude almost got close enough to reach out and touch the man now being voted off the tiny, half-mile island.

"I wrecked him and even Ray Charles saw that, but it wasn't intentional," Hamlin blurted. "He slowed and I hit him and tried to move him out of the way just like he did to Keselowski."

Hamlin, however, couldn't hold what many felt to be his undeserved lead when his teammate Kyle Busch roughed him up on the final lap, guaranteeing he'd be one of the final four in the season finale at Homestead.  "I can't judge it too much I spun Elliott out," said Hamlin. "I didn't think Kyle would move me, but it's all fair in love and war when it comes to Homestead."

Still, after he left the track Hamlin began to have second thoughts and through twitter issued an apology on what had happened between him and Elliott. He said in part, "I've raced nearly 10,000 races and it was first time I've ever spun out the leader….It's becoming normal in our sport now and I hate that I'm now in the discussion as a guilty party but I'll move on and hope Chase, his team and fans accept my apology."

My guess is Hamlin was sincere, but his mea culpa also had a lot to do with Homestead.  Taking the temperature at Martinsville and from all around the country, Elliott knows he's got a get out of jail free card when it comes to paying Hamlin back.  You remember how NASCAR was upset, but the vast majority of fans were absolutely giddy when Matt Kenseth literally knocked Joey Logano out of the season-ending playoff?   

So, here's the deal. Elliott will surely be more subtle than Kenseth, but if he feels he's not going to make the final four at Homestead then he'll do anything he can to make sure Hamlin doesn't either.  If Hamlin makes it to Homestead and Elliott doesn't, then it's a pretty good bet Denny won't win the championship.  If somehow both make it to Homestead and Hamlin has the lead and Elliott's on his back bumper…well you don't need to be a rocket ship scientist to figure out when Hamlin picks up the phone it will be "hello it's the wall calling".  Elliott now has a lot of leeway and, and as long as it's not over the top blatant, NASCAR can only look the other way.

In the end, Elliott didn't need to apologize to Keselowski and I don't think Hamlin needed to beg Elliott for forgiveness either.  On a short track or in the Playoff, sometimes drivers run into each other trying too hard and sometimes it's intentional, but you just accept it and move on with everyone understanding the potential consequences.

When it comes to a Monster Energy Cup Series championship they are so hard to win, you do what you have to do when you need to do it. It's that simple. So, whatever happens next apologies may be given, but they're not necessary.


I'm having a hard time picturing the late Dale Earnhardt writing an apology to Terry Labonte after he famously crashed him to win Bristol years back. If he did I guess it would start out something like this, "Dear Terry, I am SO sorry I just meant to rattle your cage…."  And it would end with "…if you get in my way again you're the one that's going to be sorry."  …Humbly Yours, Dale… aka "The Intimidator"